The City Council Monday in three unanimous actions rejected Mayor James C. Galie's plan to hire an outside firm to do a $35,000 efficiency study of the water and wastewater plants and adopted two resolutions aimed at strengthening the Council's role in budget deliberations.
Also Monday, rumblings that the Council may be poised to take legal action against the administration for what members consider failure to fill numerous requests for information began growing louder. Council Chairman Vince V. Anello said it may be time to take the administration to court to get the matter settled.
The issue became public at the evening session when Willie Fields Jr. of Niagara Avenue asked the Council to hold a public forum about the squabbling that has been going on between Galie's administration and the fire unions. He said if lives are being lost and public safety being compromised, the public has a right to be heard and Galie and his administration should be forced to answer questions.
The 16-month-old issue heated up further after a fire on March 13 on Niagara Avenue that took the life of a 7-year-old girl. Fire union officials have called for Fire Chief Paul S. Shanks to step down and have said staff reductions imposed by Galie's administration played a role in the loss of two adjacent homes.
Galie reached by phone later, said "no" to a public forum. He said an internal investigation is being conducted by Shanks and "nothing can be solved in a public forum where there's finger-pointing.
"We will be making a statement after the investigation.. . . This investigation is going to made by professionals. The public has a right to know and they have the right to be concerned but there is nothing to be served by a public forum."
Assistant Corporation Counsel Thomas M. O'Donnell said the Council could not force the mayor to appear.
However, the City Charter gives the Council the right to subpoena every other city officer to appear before it. In addition to its subpoena powers, O'Donnell said the Council can take the mayor to court to address what Councilman Vincent R. Morello called "their stonewalling" on information.
Galie said his administration has answered many of the Council's requests but is not there to respond to a lot of unnecessary memos.
"The Council always have the right to get all the information they need by requesting it through the administrator. . . . We will cooperate and work with them in correct manner," Galie said.
Council members stood solidly against Galie's plan to hire R&D Engineering to conduct a water and sewer study, saying one isn't needed at this time. Both plants are relatively new -- the water plant has been on line for just over a year -- and if economies are needed they could achieved by the staff, they said. Most Council members said they would support a marketing study that looked at how the plants could attract new customers or grants to raise revenues. Marketing was one of the aspects to be looked at by R&D.
"I'm disappointed they failed to approve it," Galie said. "Our plan was to make the operations of those plants more cost effective. It wasn't to privatize. It was to get better service for our dollar."
City Administrator Anthony J. Restaino has said the administration was thinking of privatizing until it received a proposal from R&D, which specializes in helping municipalities avoid privatization, according to a company official.
The Council also stood united in approving resolutions aimed at preventing budget transfers out of any department that is in danger of running over budget, requiring the city controller to certify that the mayor's budget is complete before it is presented to the Council and in setting a public hearing for 7 p.m. April 6 on a resolution adding an extra month to budget deliberations.
In other business, the Council:
Approved payment of $5,060.50 to the estate of Genevieve Budrewicz for the loss of $4,380 from the Police Department's evidence room. The claim by her estate accused the city of negligence in protecting her property during the investigation and trial for her murder. The payment includes interest.
Approved a contract for up to $10,000 for the year with the Golden Age Clubs of Niagara Falls Inc. to provide recreation services for adults over 60 years of age.
Approved a contract of up to $500,000 with Haseley Trucking Inc. for the repaving of Highland Avenue from College to Maryland avenues.
Tabled a resolution by Councilman Vincent R. Morello and Councilwoman Barbara A. Geracitano opposing higher tolls on the bridges to Canada until it meets with the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission.
Approved the appointment of Vanessa Walker to the Planning Board to fill the remainder of the term of David Stewart, which expires Dec. 31.
Approved changing medical insurance options for elected officials, department heads and exempt employees.