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Masiello firm is hired by Niagara to pursue homeland security funds

Niagara County will continue to employ a politically connected lobbying firm in an effort to scrounge up more homeland security funds.

The County Legislature's Administration Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to continue to retain Masiello, Martucci, Calabrese & Associates at $5,000 a month for six more months.

The extension takes effect July 1, if it is approved by the full Legislature next week.

Jonathan F. Schultz, county fire coordinator and emergency management director, acknowledged that the county hasn't received any money as a result of the lobbying firm's efforts in the three months since he became director.

But he was optimistic the firm's work will bear fruit soon.

"We're working on stuff," Schultz said. "I'm just working on projects with them now."

The firm's partners include former Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello and former Erie County Deputy County Executive Carl J. Calabrese, who now lives in Wheatfield.

"With homeland security funds washing up around the country, it's becoming more competitive," Schultz said. "I'm trying to use them more than in the past."

The Masiello firm was first hired by Niagara County in mid-2011, after the Obama administration changed the rules for homeland security funding and knocked Niagara County off the list of recipients.

In other matters Tuesday, the committee gave District Attorney Michael J. Violante permission to hire a part-time prosecutor, starting July 9, at a salary of $11,192 for the second half of the year.

Violante said he gave up two part-time prosecutor positions in this year's budget, and the workload in town and city courts is now greater than his staff can handle.

"It hasn't really been working," Violante said.

Particular trouble spots include courts in the town and city of Lockport, which were handled by one of the departed part-timers.

"I need this part-time person to fill the void. The Town of Lockport court has become incredibly busy, busier than North Tonawanda City Court," Violante said.

The funds to pay for the new attorney were scrounged from salary budgeted this year for one of Violante's deputies, who lost the money by going on unpaid maternity leave.

Violante said he will seek to have the new position included in the 2013 budget at a salary of between $24,428 and $32,283.

Also Tuesday, County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said there has been no response yet from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, whose effort to regain $1.3 million in stimulus money paid to the county in 2009 triggered a protest letter last week.

The letter, signed by the Buffalo Niagara region's House delegation, New York's two U.S. senators and three members of Congress from elsewhere in the state, urges the health services agency to drop its efforts to claw back the funding.