NF City Council Meeting News & Notes from January 31st, 2018

Council appraising the math in assessor’s $10,000 stipend deal

Concern raised on social media and at Wednesday’s 3-hour Niagara Falls common council meeting caused the elected body to table the mayor’s resolution requesting $10,000 for longtime city assessor James Bird that some said was “double dipping” or at least not the best deal for a city that can’t “rub two nickels together.”


As part of a shared services agreement, the City of Niagara Falls sends its assessor to the Town of Wilson for “up to six hours a week.”


“I’m totally in touch with what’s going on in Niagara Falls,” Bird said in front of the council Wednesday. “I get emails on my phone, and I come back here at the end of my day. My staff calls me.”


Now, Bird, who earns $73,000 a year, is becoming the Town of Wilson’s real property appraiser, and the amount of money Wilson pays the city is going up from $5,000 to $25,000. The mayor thinks Bird should get a $10,000 cut of the city’s windfall and asked the council Wednesday to do so.


Concerns were raised during the meeting that spending six hours in the Town of Wilson every week made the job part-time and therefore not eligible for the city’s $22,000 worth of health insurance. However, in supporting documentation to the resolution it indicated Bird works nights and weekends to fill in the gaps.


After the council voted later to table the resolution, Councilman Touma said the contract would be looked at to make sure the deal was in the best interest of the city.


Council rolls along with $100,000 in trolley funds

The council unanimously approved $100,000 in funding for the Discover Niagara Shuttle for the 2018 season on Wednesday night. Councilman Voccio offered a caveat for next year: try and find outside funding.

The shuttle is paid for from bed tax money which the city receives from taxes charged by hotels.  In addition to putting over $100,000 of these funds into the general budget each year, the City Council uses these funds with the goal of facilitating tourism.


Diodate deal draws no discussion; Kennedy apologizes for edgy performance

After the Niagara Reporter drew widespread attention twice in the last two weeks to Councilman Kenny Tompkins’ no vote regarding the hiring of Mark Diodate as council secretary, it was surprising nobody brought the issue up at Wednesday’s meeting.


Diodate was in the audience but extended no explanation as to why the resume he submitted for the council secretary position contained bad information.

Further raising eyebrows was the council’s decision to accept a revised record of his work history that was light on actual secretarial work. When Councilman Tompkins was asked after the meeting what might still unfold related to the hiring, he said, “It’s a done deal.”


Meanwhile, Councilman Bill Kennedy apologized for going off-script and cussing during January 17’s contentious first meeting of the new council that saw plenty of heat in the back-and-forth between some councilmembers


During his campaign, Councilman Kennedy was attacked by social-media users employing pseudonyms over various issues — even going so far as question his use an old photo depicting a younger version with dark hair instead of the more mature coloration he currently sports. Kennedy’s dark hue, however, returned abruptly Wednesday.


“I’m in ‘Tony and Tina’s Wedding’ right now,” Councilman Kennedy said after the meeting. Actors Anonymous Theatre Company is staging the production through February at the Lancaster Country Club. It’s the longest-running production in Western New York at 16 years, and Councilman Kennedy plays the lead male role of ‘Tony’ in the interactive wedding parody.


Who will emerge as the slumlord slayer of Niagara Falls?

Social media once again plays an important role in highlighting the immense problems facing a city that people travel halfway around the world to visit. One of them is the hundreds upon hundreds of substandard apartments being rented out by mostly out-of-city or out-of-state owners.

They’re preying upon a swath of residents who often don’t know their rights and are stymied by a slow-poke court system barely making a dent in the problem.


These “slumlords of Niagara Falls” are the subject of a Facebook page that provides plenty of information and discussion about who these people are and what they’re doing with their properties. Mary DeBacco addressed the council Wednesday regarding her work advocating for these renters, often young women with children.


Sometimes they face their water being turned off, or living in properties that aren’t up to code.

Worse yet, when these houses are condemned, the tenants have nowhere to go as the community mission and other safety-net residences have no vacancy.


Taking a human toll far worse than the related blight issue gripping the city’s community development and administration — subject of a lengthy presentation at the beginning of the meeting — the issue of slumlords and their often unsafe properties hurting the city is one begging for council attention and action.


By: Joseph Kissel



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