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AS NIAGARA FALLS

You're getting warmer

Niagara Falls City Councilman Paul A. Dyster has shown he will go to any lengths to keep city government running smoothly.

Councilman Charles A. Walker took the chairman's seat at Tuesday's Council meeting, explaining that Chairwoman Frances M. Iusi wouldn't make the 4 p.m. meeting because she was stuck in Florida. Her flight had been canceled, but she was trying to get back for the 7 p.m. session, Walker said.

Dyster thought that sounded a little suspicious.

"I think I should go down there and check on that," Dyster said.

Merger matters

Council members expressed reservations last week about how the city will fare under the new joint Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., which is intended to replace the city's Convention & Visitors Bureau and Niagara County Tourism Department.

At issue was the apparent lack of funding sources to augment the $900,000 the city collects in bed taxes and another $300,000 expected to come from the rest of the county. Initially, the budget was projected to be $3 million. Concerns also were raised over the fate of the bureau's 14 employees.

"One of my fears is the people who worked there for years were going to be sacrificed for the new team," said Councilman Vince V. Anello. "All the new team will have is the shirts."

Dyster also was concerned that the city may lose some of the expertise longtime bureau staffers have gained. He cited the departure of former bureau and Convention & Civic Center staffer John Oliver to become executive director of the Erie, Pa., Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Oliver returned to town for a Niagara University reunion last month and reported things are happening in Erie. Among them, he said, is development of a new water theme park that, given its location in a Northeastern city, officials have decided to build indoors.

He was able to speak from experience about what happens to outdoor parks of that kind.

In praise of razing raises

Dyster was grateful to department heads for their offer to forgo raises Elia's budget proposed for them.

"That makes our life easier," Dyster said.

City Controller Maria C. Brown said the move would save $35,699.

That's enough, or nearly enough, to save one snowplow driver, cop or firefighter.

Brown said the department heads' offer doesn't apply to Police Chief Christopher J. Carlin, whose raises are dictated by state law, or Library Director Betty Babanoury, who is under the authority of the Library Board. The offer also did not include other exempt employees, such as city lawyers, human resources staffers or confidential secretaries. The Council will have to decide those increases on an individual basis.

Viva Tim Horton's!

During a Council discussion of an unrelated issue, Lockport Alderwoman Phyllis J. Green suddenly announced, "I went to the conference yesterday and it was very interesting."

Her colleagues were baffled. "What was it?" asked Blackley.

"A police conference," said Green, R-2nd Ward.

"Where was it?" asked Blackley.

"Delphi," answered Green. "Just because you don't read your mail . . ."

Green went on to describe the event. She said although a light breakfast was offered, everyone had to leave for lunch.

"They served coffee and doughnuts but they didn't serve lunch?" asked Mullaney.

"It was a police conference," explained Alderman Scott R. Elliott, who as a sheriff's department juvenile investigator is allowed to make jokes about the police.

Funny, if it weren't true

Another amazing tale from the off-kilter world of Niagara County government.

Last week, the County Legislature's Human Resources Committee authorized the cancellation of a contract extension with Hatch Leonard Naples, a Buffalo firm that had been handling claims administration for the county's property and casualty insurance, risk management consulting and insurance brokerage services.

Risk Manager Wayne L. Salen said he thought the county was spending too much and said Hatch Leonard Naples was collecting both a flat fee and a commission, which he felt was improper.

But more than that, "It's a three-year contract extension to a contract that doesn't exist," Salen said.

He said neither the county nor the firm has any record of the contract that the County Legislature voted to extend in late 2000, although Hatch Leonard Naples had been working for the county before that date.

Oh, deer

At Tuesday's North Tonawanda Common Council workshop, the topic was the increasing problem of deer overpopulation, and everybody had a tale to tell.

Council President Catherine Schwandt told the Council that one of her neighbors recently had a deer get stuck in the family's hockey net.

Mayor David Burgio expressed his annoyance over deer "eating everything I've got in my garden," but "they don't eat weeds, unfortunately. Tell people to grow more weeds."

Finally, 3rd Ward Alderman Brett Sommer said what many were thinking: "Well, at least Ed Belbas is doing his part."

On election night, after losing the race for assemblyman from 140th District to incumbent Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, Edward Belbas Jr. hit a deer with his car.

"The deer wasn't hurt, was it?" asked City Clerk Thomas Jaccarino.

"I'm only kidding," he added.

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