Supervisor Joseph Emminger mentioned a couple of major challenges facing the Town of Tonawanda during his State of the Town address Friday.
There was the expected: the closing of the Huntley Power Plant, which shut down last year after a century of operation.
Then came the surprise: William E. Swanson is retiring as highway superintendent.
While offering thoughts on 2016 and his plans for the new year at a luncheon event sponsored by the Kenmore Tonawanda Chamber of Commerce, Emminger took time to give special thanks and recognition to Swanson.
Swanson has been highway superintendent for the past six years, but he worked for the town for the past 41 years, starting on the job at age 19. He served as chairman of the forestry department during the October Surprise storm in 2006, where thousands of trees were destroyed, and was instrumental in establishing a tree farm at the Riverside Boys and Girls Club.
"I've loved it," Swanson said of his job of highway superintendent. "I only wish I had done it when I was younger."
Swanson, 60, has been on medical leave since Dec. 30 when he suffered a heart attack in the Erie County Courthouse, while attending the swearing-in ceremony of Erie County District Attorney John Flynn. Swanson said he is recovering and will be on the job through his retirement on March 13.
"I'm going to miss everybody, there's no doubt about it," said Swanson.
Emminger completed his first year as supervisor in 2016. During his State of the Town address, Emminger also said:
- It is "unacceptable" that NRG Energy, the owner of the Huntley plant, has not announced plans for the dormant 93-acre site. He said the town will press for action with assistance from its state representatives.
- In relation to the post-Huntley era, the town has partnered with the University at Buffalo's Regional Institute which was awarded a federal grant to study redevelopment on the River Road corridor in the Tonawanda Tomorrow Initiative.
- During 2016 the town has seen a "huge increase" in business investment and job development, with more than $400 million of new investment from the town's largest manufacturing plants, including GM and Sumitomo Rubber. The North Youngmann Commerce Center continues to draw new businesses with only 18 of 70 acres there remaining for sale. Unifrax has announced it is moving forward with an 11-acre expansion and Pine Pharmaceuticals is expanding operations in the Riverview Solar Park. Also PermClip has announced plans to bring more than 70 manufacturing jobs to its Military Road plant.
- In 2016 the town consolidated the community development, building inspection and technical support offices into Planning and Development Department to achieve greater efficiency.
- In 2016 the assessor's department implemented an online assessment review system and the town updated its website.
- The Department of Youth, Parks and Recreation completed the 3.9-mile Rails to Trails project in 2016, and the town is seeking $330,000 in grant money from the Niagara River Greenway for trail enhancements in 2017.
- The town will continue to acquire and demolish substandard vacant housing units and return these "zombie" home properties to the real estate market.
- In a new initiative for 2017, the town will focus on recycling efforts with plans to convert from bins to covered totes for recycling.
- The town has stayed under the state budget tax cap for a fifth straight year. As the town's budget officer, the supervisor oversees a $100 million budget in the town and he said he was pleased the town has an adequate fund balance and an Aa2 bond rating, which enables the town to get the lowest possible interest rate when for borrowing funds.