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Maziarz seeks audit of allocations by Niagara Power Coalition

The Niagara Power Coalition snapped to attention Thursday as Niagara County's most powerful politician urged an audit of how its members have used the benefits they received from the Niagara Power Project relicensing.

At a meeting in the county Industrial Development Agency offices, State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, said there should be audits of the $5 million a year split up by the seven coalition members, as well as the 27.5 megawatts of electricity they share each year from the Power Project.

Coalition Chairman William L. Ross, the County Legislature chairman, assured Maziarz there would be a vote on issuing a request for proposals for such an audit at the coalition's next meeting.

The terms of the relicensing agreement with the New York Power Authority require the group to obtain a formal audit only of the $3 million in Niagara River Greenway funds the authority pays annually.

"It seems like an oddity," Maziarz said. "I just think the people of Niagara County have a right to know what became of the power and the money."

Ross handed him a stack of letters from the seven members answering his questions.

"We used that money to offset some areas we would have had to cut back without that community funding," Ross said. "In the future, it could be used for a specific project, just as some of the other entities have done."

"I am not in any way saying that money was misspent," Maziarz told the coalition members as a Maziarz staffer snapped photos.

"If we find it wasn't spent in the most judicious way, the Power Authority is writing another $8 million worth of checks in a couple of months, and going forward, maybe it can be spent in a more judicious way."

Maziarz urged that the electricity allocations be used to create jobs. Only the county has done so, setting up its Empower Niagara program for small businesses.

The county has allocated discounted power to seven businesses and takes credit for creating 171 jobs and retaining 398.

The coalition also includes the City of Niagara Falls, the towns of Lewiston and Niagara, and the Niagara Falls, Niagara-Wheatfield and Lewiston-Porter school districts.

"School districts can't go out and create jobs," said Niagara Falls school attorney Angelo Massaro.

Lew-Port Schools Superintendent R. Christopher Roser said his district sells the electricity it can't use itself. Since 2008, it has earned $384,410 from doing so.

"Just about every cent has gone to keep taxes down," Roser said.

Maziarz said a "performance audit" might bolster his plans to request larger payments and electric allocations from the Power Authority.

Maziarz also received a breakdown of coalition legal fees since the relicensing deal was made in 2005. The tab, shared by the members, is $1.3 million.

The Harris Beach law firm billed $341,000 in 2005 and 2006, and since then the legal work has been done by the Nixon Peabody firm.