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CITY, COUNTY EXAMINE SHARED SERVICES

Niagara Falls City Council members and Niagara County legislators made some headway Wednesday when they met with City Administrator Albert Joseph to find some concrete avenues for sharing services.

It was the second meeting of the city-county committee and Joseph admonished the group, "There was a high level of brainstorming at our last meeting, but some things we talked about were really down the road. Let's talk about things we can do in the near term."

The committee, which was cut in half due to illness and other commitments, came up with several areas it will begin looking at immediately, includingrecords storage, centralized 911 service, voting machines, and the use of the county sign shop.

Legislator Lee Simonson, R-Lewiston, said the county has already begun construction on an emergency services building, which would allow central dispatch of all 911 calls in the county.

"At this point it's just a shell, but we will have our (Sheriff's Department) dispatch there. We could save 10 jobs if Niagara Falls joined a central dispatch, but there could be a comfortable merger through attrition," Simonson said.

Legislator Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said, "When we talked about a merger in the past, Niagara Falls and Lockport didn't want to do it. Today everything is computerized and the name, maps and locations pop up. The argument before was that the dispatcher wouldn't know where the streets were."

Niagara Falls Councilman Paul A. Dyster said the 911 discussion could lead to other policing issues and could be the first step in creating a "Metro Police Force" that would effect significant savings.

The committee also talked about merging records storage, a problem for the city, which is storing its records on the third floor of the public library in Niagara Falls.

Virtuoso said the county can begin meeting the city's records storage needs when it completes a records storage building in Lockport in October.

"I've talked to (Niagara County Clerk) Wayne Jagow and he was very enthusiastic. The building will be climate-controlled, computerized with full-time record-keeping. . . . We have county trucks coming back and forth every day that could make deliveries," Virtuoso said.

Joseph said, "We must find an alternate storage area and the city just has no existing buildings. Some records we have to keep for 25 to 50 years."

Simonson brought up the issue of voting equipment, which is being studied by a legislative committee.

"We are using tobacco (settlement) money to revitalize our voting machines. I would suggest (the city) ask the county to maintain and refurbish them for you," he said.

Simonson added that for about $200,000, "we could refurbish all the voting machines in the county."

Legislator Daniel L. Mocniak, D-Niagara Falls, who is on the voting machine committee said they will be looking at the possibility of taking ownership of all voting machines in the county.

Several other issues were raised for future discussion, including tourism, tax collection, road maintainance, sharing of services such as telephone or cell phone to get better rates, a county-wide library system, sharing equipment, and recreation areas such as parks and golf courses.

County department heads will be asked to meet and make final or preliminary reports to the shared services committee at its next meeting at 5 p.m. March 14 in Niagara Falls City Hall.

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