Anger over the city's garbage user fee led to a West Side resident's eviction from a neighborhood summit meeting Tuesday evening.
Tempers flared briefly in the crowded basement of the Crane-Cutting Center at 286 Lafayette Ave., where nearly 400 Niagara District residents gathered for their annual meeting with Mayor Masiello and city officials.
After the first 90 minutes of an otherwise orderly meeting, two women began shouting about the user fee, and a man became abusive. After the man left -- at the mayor's request -- the residents broke up into smaller discussion groups with city officials.
Tabulations of the residents' chief concerns showed that 22 percent considered crime the top issue, while another 22 percent put housing first. Education came in next at 11 percent, followed by city services at 9 percent and a tie at 6 percent between the need for a residency requirement for city workers and job and economic development concerns.
"I know a lot of people are here today, and they're angry -- about a lot of reasons," Masiello told residents. "Nobody likes the user fee. Elected officials who supported it or didn't support it don't like it. But you should hear me out. We have reduced our work force by 325 people. We've consolidated and eliminated two departments. We've gotten rid of middle-management positions in city government."
Masiello drew applause and cheers by saying, "I'm going to the state and asking for residency (requirements) so that people who work for the city should live in the city."
He drew more applause when he continued:
"As your mayor, I'm going to do the best job I can. I'm going to change this city so that we give you better services. Oftentimes, people are going to resent the way we do it, but I'm going to leave this city better than I inherited it three years ago."
"I'm going to the county and ask them for help. The sales tax should be fairly shared with us. We're acting on consolidations with the county, to shrink the size of government. We've done some; we have to do a lot more."
But the mood quickly changed when Masiello alluded to residents' concerns over the possible closing of the West Ferry Station as part of police consolidation.
"I know there's some people who don't like the potential closing of Precinct 5," he said. "We had to close Precinct 10 (Niagara Station) and others throughout the city. However, in its place you will be getting more efficient (and) more visible police protection and more cars on the street."
"Noooo!" many residents yelled.
"We don't believe it!" several shouted.
"Let me just tell you something," the mayor pleaded. "Police buildings don't protect people. Police officers do."
Niagara Council Member Robert Quintana and Colleen Draper, a member of the Massachusetts Avenue Security Association, told the success story of how 18th Street Block Club took back its street.
"Six weeks ago our neighborhood was a nightmare," Ms. Draper said. "We had two crack houses. People were in fear of their lives and afraid to come out of their house. We finally said we'd had enough. We hired an off-duty police officer on July 1 to walk our streets.
"Within six weeks, both crack houses were closed down and boarded up, and our street is becoming a good neighborhood again. We no longer have people standing on the corner, dealing drugs, (or) men on bicycles riding up and down Massachusetts Street, selling drugs. We still have some loitering; I wish there were a law (enforced) against loitering."