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Niagara County Legislator Lee Simonson said last week that he wants to discuss transferring control of Bond Lake County Park to the Town of Lewiston.

That would be the second of the six county parks to be the subject of talks over possible transfer to a town. The Town of Wheatfield has expressed an interest in taking charge of Oppenheim Park.

However, two Lewiston councilmen question whether a Bond Lake deal could be made in the town's current financial situation without some private involvement.

But the county is already embroiled in a lawsuit over a farmer's private use of land in the Lower Mountain Road park. That long-running case involving Gerald P. Helmich of Ransomville and the Niagara County Sportsmen's Association is due to go to trial in March.

The Bond Lake transfer surfaced Wednesday as the Legislature's Parks Committee discussed a proposal to make $125,000 worth of improvements to the Bond Lake warming house.

Parks Commissioner Timothy R. Horanburg said the project would include sound baffles inside the building to make it less noisy for the wedding receptions occasionally held there.

Also, he proposed buying tables and chairs -- at present, picnic tables and benches are brought inside -- and a small walk-in cooler. Legislator William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, said the building is hot during the summer, even with both doors open; he recommended installation of air conditioning.

That was when Simonson spoke up.

"I'm not against improvements to Bond Lake Park, but not with this intent, to make us more competitive with our volunteer fire companies (for hall rentals)," the Lewiston Republican said. "In six months, we could be talking to the Town of Lewiston after a transfer of the park."

Horanburg said that this was the first he had heard of any such proposal. "When you heard it, I heard it," he told a reporter. "They caught me by complete surprise. I sat there with my mouth open."

Simonson said, "I have not had any formal discussion with the Town of Lewiston about this, (but) I'd like to open the door on this."

Lewiston Councilman D. James Langlois, a Republican, said Bond Lake "is certainly a greatly underutilized park." But he said that the town's own parks budget has been growing steadily and that the town narrowly avoided imposing a general property tax in its 2001 budget.

He and Democratic Councilman John D. Ceretto both suggested that a private company be selected to manage the old ski hill in the park, now used only for sledding, in hopes of returning it to ski use and generating more revenue.

Langlois said, "The idea of the Town of Lewiston taking over that hill doesn't ring a bell with me at this time."

Ceretto said, "I would not want to take the park and leave it the way it is and put a burden on the taxpayers of Lewiston."

The trend in local government ought to be toward consolidation of services, rather than spinning them off to smaller units of government, Langlois said. "We ought to go to centralization. . . . This is going counter to that," he said.

That is not how Simonson sees it. "It opens up a lot of possibilities. It allows the county to concentrate its limited resources on the other parks in its system and consolidate services," he said.

Horanburg said the county needs to do more legal research on the deed for Bond Lake, to see what restrictions there might be. Assistant County Attorney R. Joseph Foltz is already looking into the Oppenheim Park deed, which may restrict the county's ability to transfer control of that park to Wheatfield.

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