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PROPOSAL TO CHARGE FEES FOR FIRE SERVICES WITHDRAWN

A proposal to allow the city Fire Department to bill insurance companies for some fire and rescue services was withdrawn Monday when city lawmakers said they wanted more information to assure themselves taxpayers wouldn't pay twice for the same services.

Fire Chief William Correa and Councilwoman Frances M. Iusi said there would be no charge for residential fires. They said the charges are intended to increase city revenues without putting more burden on the taxpayers.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Thomas M. O'Donnell said the charges for commercial and automobile fires are already provided for in insurance policies and would not affect the amount of a settlement an insured received for a claim or his future insurance premiums. Correa said the city can't collect from the insurance companies unless a local law is in place.

Council Chairman Anthony F. Quaranto said he wanted evidence that insurance rates wouldn't climb. Councilmen John G. Accardo and Paul A. Dyster asked for copies of legislation being used elsewhere and lists of other municipalities that are billing already.

City Controller Maria C. Brown asked for a history on their collection efforts. She said the city cannot afford to budget in revenue that can't be collected because that amounts to budgeting in an automatic deficit.

Correa and Iusi said all of the new charges except $250 for automobile fires are aimed at businesses, which, they said, already pay for the coverage in their insurance premiums. They said 100 percent of the cost for the services is currently borne by the taxpayers. That includes the cost of putting out fires for vehicles owned by tourists and non-property owners, they said.

Correa said that among the cities that have enacted the charges are Buffalo, Jamestown, Syracuse and Elmira.

Accardo, an insurance agent, said he was absolutely convinced that if the rates were enacted, insurance companies would react by raising premiums for those who own businesses and drive in the city.

In another matter, the Council agreed to start the process to discontinue DeFranco Park as parkland to make it available for development after Mayor Irene J. Elia agreed to drop Porter Park from the request. Quaranto said he didn't believe the request would be approved if Porter Park were included.

Concern was raised last week about the possibility of selling Porter Park on Buffalo Avenue overlooking the Niagara River, which contains an old stone chimney that was part of Little Fort Niagara. It is the second oldest existent masonry work -- after the French Castle at Old Fort Niagara -- in the state west of the Hudson River, according to Senior City Planner Thomas J. DeSantis.

Elia said if the land were sold, the developer would preserve the chimney or move it. DeSantis said it has been moved three times to different locations on the Upper Niagara River. The administration would not identify the potential developer for either park.

However, the request raised other concerns among some Council members. Dyster said he couldn't support the request based on what information he has been given, "which is nothing." Dyster said use of the DeFranco Park property at Main and Whirlpool streets should be considered as part of an overall downtown development plan. He also said the city should request proposals to get the best ideas and the best price rather than sell it for the first offer.

Other Council members said Monday's move was just the start of the process, which requires state approval, and the Council would get other opportunities to vote on it if it goes forward.

The Council did vote to give away another piece of public property -- the unimproved street end at South 86th Street -- despite passionate pleas from six Cayuga Island residents to keep the riverfront property for public use. The property has become the center of controversy between those who think the city should guard what little public access it has to the Niagara River and those who say the city is in bad shape and needs to put whatever property it can back on the tax rolls.

The tax rolls won as the Council voted, 4-3, to abandon the street end to adjacent property owners, one of whom wants to build a garage on his half of the parcel. Quaranto provided the swing vote as he did in April to retain the land. This time, Quaranto said he was persuaded to change his vote by the 200 signatures on a petition favoring the abandonment. Opponents said some of the signers were misled by the wording of the petition.

email:jscelsa@buffnews.com

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