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AS NIAGARA FALLS

You got that right

Lewiston Town Supervisor Sandra J. Maslen caught a recent Buffalo News article that quoted her as saying her fellow board members were -- in her word -- nuts. The quote came after a particularly contentious budget meeting.

Some politicians see a quote like that and claim everything from a misquote to the well-worn "It was taken out of context." Not Maslen; she called to praise it, saying that "nuts" was a perfectly accurate way to describe the mood of the meeting.

"You can see from my quote how crazy everything got," said Maslen.

A sense of four-boding

The Niagara Falls budget isn't all dollars and cents. There are other important numbers. The number 4, for example.

At a recent budget session, Councilman Vince Anello asked if the Council planned to collaborate on budget amendments, a practice he said the Council followed in 1998 and which he supported.

Anello said his question wasn't just idle curiosity. Holding up four fingers, Anello said: "The reason I'm suggesting this is because any change in the budget requires four votes (to override a mayoral veto). Being able to override a veto is important or this is a futile exercise," he told the Council, which is often divided along 3-2 lines.

Councilman Paul A. Dyster chose a more optimistic approach. If compelling enough arguments are put forth for the changes, they may convince more than just Council members, he said, implying that Mayor Irene J. Elia may withhold her vetoes in such cases. After all, a lot has happened since Elia presented her budget, Dyster reasoned. There has been a public outcry against job cuts, especially those in police and fire. And then, "the wheel is still spinning on revenue we hope to receive," he said in a not-so-veiled reference to the Seneca Niagara Casino under construction a few blocks away.

A Christmas without vetoes? Could it be?

The other deer hunter

Anello evoked a blush from Dyster last week.

"Paul, you want to tell us how you shot Bambi, Mr. Tree Hugger," Anello taunted at the beginning of a budget session. "You want to talk about it in front of the press and everyone."

After Dyster, a self-proclaimed environmentalist, turned several shades of crimson, Anello wasn't above hitting Dyster up for a share of his take.

"Just remember, I don't hunt, but I love venison," Anello said.

Dyster later confirmed that he had indeed bagged a buck Tuesday morning at a camp in Allegany County that he and his brothers own. He said his family lives off the bounty of the land, substituting deer meat for beef in its diet.

So will he share with Anello?

"I don't know. It depends if Vince behaves himself. We'll have to wait and see until after the budget is over," Dyster said slyly.

A few good grants

Anello also made a pitch to the Council this week to contract with a grant writing firm for $10,000, which he said could be paid out of grant revenues the firm would obtain for the city.

That led to a discussion of whether it was a firm that had been in discussions with the city in the late 1990s or a different firm. Council Chairwoman Frances M. Iusi and City Administrator Albert T. Joseph said there are a lot of such firms around.

"I just want one. A good one," Anello said.

Bridging the gap

Meanwhile, the Legislature's Finance Committee managed to thoroughly confuse itself during a prolonged discussion of a proposed bond issue to pay for reconstruction of 12 bridges.

The total cost of the package is about $10.4 million. The county has to cover about $3.3 million of that, with the state and federal governments picking up the rest.

County Treasurer David S. Broderick noted that the county had already appropriated $502,000 toward the projects. Committee members determined that if they wanted, they could subtract that amount from the bond issue.

But it was unclear whether they could spend the $502,000 on something else if they included it in the bond issue.

They decided to include the $502,000 after defeating a clear-as-mud motion by Majority Leader Samuel P. Granieri, D-Niagara Falls, "to bond whatever the amount is minus whatever the $500,000 is."

Understand?

The confusion continued when Finance Committee members wondered why next year's estimated property tax increase had risen from 15.3 percent to 16.6 percent.

Budget Director Sharon Sacco explained that the committee had allowed the Health Department to re-create five jobs that were vacated this fall by early retirements. The cost of those positions had been subtracted from the $650,000 in spending cuts the committee wanted the department to make.

Granieri and North Tonawanda Legislators William M. Davignon and Malcolm A. Needler all said they thought the $650,000 in cuts were to be made after the five jobs were restored.

"If I, in fact, did understand it, that was my understanding," Needler said.

At least it looks like water

Mayor Richard F. Soluri and the village trustees were in rare form last week with no pressing issues and no members of the public attending the meeting.

Soluri decided he would sing to the board when relaying a request from a musical group to use the village gazebo. His "song" came out more like a Gregorian chant, and board member Joseph Fruscione said, "What is this? Monsignor Soluri?"

Soluri continued to chant his motion and said the trustees should answer the motion in the form of a song, too. Fruscione sang, "Amen." The others sang a unanimous, "Aye." Though the key was not unanimous, guess they get points for trying.

Jokingly asked later on, they all swore they just had water in those pitchers up on the dais.

But seriously . . .

The population of the Niagara County Jail has been averaging 150 prisoners per day more than expected, so the county had to dip into its contingency fund last week. It allotted $190,000 from the fund for medical treatment and medications for inmates.

Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein said $70,000 of that was for treatment and could be recouped from Medicaid because it involved hospital visits. The rest was drug costs.

Beilein told the Legislature's Finance Committee that the county would spend $360,000 this year on pharmaceuticals for jail inmates.

This revelation, of course, led to a host of one-liners from the amateur comedians who work for county government.

"Could you arrest healthier prisoners?" asked Legislator Daniel L. Mocniak, D-Niagara Falls.

"Are any of them getting Viagra?" asked Budget Director Sharon Sacco.

"Psychotropic drugs are a big item," Beilein answered.

"You should get your drugs on the street corner," suggested Legislator William M. Davignon, D-North Tonawanda. "My brother sells for Eli Lilly. Maybe we can work out a deal."

The laughs keep coming

The next resolution before the Finance Committee was to increase the amount of money spent for jail commissary supplies by $25,000, which was offset by the prisoners' spending on the supplies.

"We have to feed them, too?" asked Davignon, mock-incredulously. "What a committee this is! You guys are nice."

"What caused the extra 150 prisoners?" asked Legislator Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls.

"We cleaned out Niagara Falls," Beilein answered.

Hard of hearing

A public hearing on a local law to speed up the process of foreclosing on real estate whose owners haven't paid their property taxes went, well, not that smoothly.

Alfred Wroblewski of Royalton stepped to the microphone to ask what the hearing was about. He complained that the law hadn't been publicized, despite the legally required publication of the legal notice and frequent stories about the speeded-up foreclosures in The Buffalo News and other publications.

"This is not a question-and-answer session," replied Legislator Daniel L. Mocniak, who was running the hearing.

"If the public doesn't know anything about the local law and you don't know anything about it either, we both look like fools," retorted Wroblewski.

Curb your enthusiasm

Police charged a man Monday after finding him painting curbs in the city's LaSalle section.

It seems Paul D. Williams, 43, was charging residents of the 1000 block of 101st Street various sums to "unofficially" spruce up their city-owned street-liners. Not only that, but it was the third time Williams had been warned for such behavior.

Normally not one to criticize art, Officer Jay Fisher was forced to charge Williams with making graffiti and possessing graffiti tools, both misdemeanors.