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FALLS DUE TO GET INSPECTION DUTIES AT NEW AQUARIUM

The County Legislature is to vote Tuesday on turning over all building inspection responsibilities for Niagara Falls' new $35 million aquarium to the city.

On the agenda is an agreement with the city, allowing Niagara Falls to handle the building and fire inspections of the AquaFalls aquarium, now under construction by private investors on Rainbow Boulevard at the former Occidental Chemical Center.

The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency has taken formal title to the project as part of the financial incentive package, so normally, inspections would be a county responsibility.

However, the county employs only two code enforcers. Said Emergency Management Director James C. Volkosh, who supervises code enforcement, "The scope of the project at AquaFalls is beyond the scope of the staff we currently have. . . . To oversee a project like that, we'd need six inspectors."

Assistant County Attorney Richard J. Hogan Jr. said, "Since the beginning of this project, the city has in fact carried out the code enforcement. This will formalize what has already occurred."

Hogan and Volkosh noted that the agreement takes the county completely off the hook in case of any lawsuits over code enforcement.

Legislator Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, a city building inspector, said the Legislature missed substantial revenue when it failed to pass a local law setting up joint code enforcement with localities.

"If we had the local law the way it was the first time, we would have split the revenue," Virtuoso said. Volkosh said the county's share of the fees would have been more than $100,000. Last August, county Code Enforcement Officer Daniel T. Gregory estimated the fee at $140,000. Legislator James W. Ward, R-Newfane, said he had heard it could have been $300,000.

Volkosh said, "We will probably see similar agreements with other cities, standing agreements."

Tuesday's Legislature meeting begins with a 7:30 p.m. public hearing on pay raises for Coroners Kenneth V. Lederhouse, R-Lockport, and Joseph V. Mantione, R-North Tonawanda. A vote on granting the raises is scheduled during the 8 p.m. meeting.

Lederhouse's pay would rise from $13,113 to $16,000 and Mantione's from $14,200 to $16,000.

Also scheduled for Tuesday are votes on calling a Feb. 15 public hearing on raises for the election commissioners and the public defender.

Public Defender Daniel E. Seaman would receive a $1,512 retroactive raise for 1999 and a $1,573 raise for 2000, bringing his pay to $40,893.

Election Commissioners Judith M. Cirifalco, Democrat, and Michael J. Norris, Republican, would see 1999 lump-sum payments of $1,505 and 2000 raises of $1,565, making their salaries $40,694 each.

The raises for all five officials would be subject to a permissive referendum.

That means if voters object, a 45-day period is allowed for a petition drive to force a referendum on the raises by gathering signatures equal to 5 percent of the voters who turned out for the 1998 general election. About 1,500 signatures would be needed.

Other agenda items include:

Creation of a capital reserve fund to pay for installing a new 30-inch county Water District main across the Erie Canal at Mapleton and Bear Ridge roads in Pendleton. District Administrative Director Ronald C. Johnston said $100,000 per year will be put into the fund for six years, which should cover the cost of the project.

Renewal of the Water District's supply contract with the Orleans County Village of Medina, an arrangement that Johnston said is as old as the district itself. Medina pays the standard county rate of 70 cents per 1,000 gallons of water, and village property owners pay the Water District property tax of 70 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, Johnston said.

The awarding of a design contract for a new irrigation system at the county golf course in Lockport. The Legislature has authorized a $500,000 bond issue for the construction of the system.

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