The Common Council was asked Wednesday to make some city-owned property available for a project to maintain the Niagara Escarpment as a friendly environment for plants and wildlife.
Officials of the Western New York Land Conservancy addressed the aldermen about the Niagara Escarpment Legacy Program, asking for permission to replant land west of the city compost plant and the cap of the old city landfill off Oakhurst Street with what Youngstown attorney William Broderick called "native grasses and plants" that would attract wildlife.
Patricia Szarpa, executive director of the conservancy, said it either owns or has arranged conservation easements on 5,000 acres of land in Western New York, protecting it from development.
The city would not be asked to bar future development of its property, however. "When you wanted to use it, you could use it," said Broderick, a Conservancy board member.
But it would ask that after the new plantings take root, the city would agree to mow only one-third of the affected area each year, to protect the habitat for "birds and butterflies," as Broderick put it.
Alderman Patrick W. Schrader noted that the city has a 36-inch sewer main through Gulf Wilderness Park along the Escarpment to which it would need access.
The conservancy has been in touch with private landowners along the Escarpment in Lockport. Broderick said six of 12 owners it contacted in 2003 were in favor of conservation measures on their land.
Szarpa said there are property tax benefits and federal income tax deductions available for landowners who obtain conservation easements, although the federal deduction is to expire at the end of 2007.
"I think it's great you've picked the City of Lockport to do this," said Council President John Lombardi III.
On another topic, the Council received a year-end report for 2006 on overtime pay, which showed Fire Department overtime costs fell substantially from 2005, although they still exceeded the amount in the budget.
Mayor Michael W. Tucker said reducing the minimum manning on each fire shift, which has fallen from 10 firefighters to seven, was the main factor in dropping overtime costs to $264,512 in 2006. That's a big drop from the 2005 figure of $376,913, but the Council had set $200,000 as the target in the 2006 budget.
Tucker acknowledged the firefighters' union has filed a grievance over the minimum manning reduction, and a decision by a state arbitrator has yet to be made.
Police overtime was listed at $550,825, but Tucker complained that includes about $130,000 in briefing and debriefing pay, which he said isn't overtime and shouldn't be counted that way. "It makes it look like I'm not doing my job holding the overtime down," the mayor said.
Even deducting the briefing pay, the overtime figure stood at about $420,000. The budget target for 2006 was $326,016 including the briefing pay, $205,350 without it.