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City Council members want city to have more say in Niagara Falls Water Board

NIAGARA FALLS – The Niagara Falls Water Board is taking advantage of city taxpayers, raising rates and refusing to provide needed services, said City Council Member Kenneth Tompkins, who is co-sponsoring a resolution that would end state appointees on the board.

A recent audit by the state Comptroller’s Office said the group’s debt fund was “excessively” funded and suggested that the excess could have been used to fund capital projects or repairs or be used to reduce the water and sewer rent rates charged to taxpayers.

Tompkins and fellow Council Member Ezra P. Scott Jr. will introduce a motion at Monday’s City Council meeting requesting the city, rather than the state, have control of appointing new members to the board.

In 2002, the State Legislature created the Water Board and the Water Authority, whose primary purpose is to sell bonds to provide money for the board.

The action, in effect, took Niagara Falls’ water and sewer systems out of the control of the regular city government.

Animosity has grown over the years between the Water Board and the city. In December, the city had to open its coffers to the tune of nearly $1 million to pay for costly repairs to waterlines on and around 72nd Street when the Water Board refused to pay for the repairs.

The pipes had frozen two years in a row in the extreme cold of 2014 and 2015 and left many residents in that part of the city with no running water.

In that same period, the state comptroller’s audit said the Water Board’s debt service fund had $6.3 million in “excess cash.” There was also $3.3 million sitting in an account since 2003 that the audit could not account for. Board Executive Director Paul J. Drof, who joined the board in 2010, told The Buffalo News last week that upon checking with previous employees, it appears the money came from Occidental Chemical Corp. as part of a settlement for chemical contamination of the company’s S-Area landfill.

“I want to give the control back to the citizens of Niagara Falls,” Tompkins said. “People didn’t have water for two years. It’s ludicrous.”

Scott said his goal in co-sponsoring the resolution is to start a discussion with the state.

“It seems to me that, over the past few years, the city hasn’t had too much control over the Water Board. We should have some say,” he said.

Tompkins said there has been a contentious relationship for years between the city and state, but the audit was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“You have $6.3 million. Give us our money back and start doing the maintenance you are supposed to do,” said Tompkins.