Niagara County may cancel the Town of Lockport's lease on 60 acres of parkland if the county can't cancel an agreement allowing its blue-collar union to maintain it.
But if the county cancels the lease, it would have to reimburse the town for the work it has done to develop the land into a park -- a tab Supervisor John B. Austin said may approach $300,000.
The County Legislature's Public Works Committee voted unanimously Monday to notify the town that the county can't meet an Oct. 9 deadline for deciding whether to renew the lease for the land at Day Road and East High Street.
The lease, signed in 2001, must be renewed every five years, but cancellation requires six months' notice. Without such notice, the lease automatically continues.
If the full Legislature concurs next week, the town would receive a letter stating that the county reserves its rights to cancel the lease after the deadline, if it decides that move is in its best financial interest.
Austin described the county's delaying tactic as unacceptable.
"Just the concept of them taking (the land) back is inflammatory," he said in a telephone interview. "On the other hand, they may be thinking in our favor, too." Austin said the county may be trying to find a way to get around the union objections.
Three weeks ago, the Legislature voted to sue Local 182, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, to annul a 2002 agreement giving the union, which represents county parks workers, the right to do the maintenance work on the land, even though the union has no contract with the town.
The suit would be filed if county attorneys decide the 2002 deal, which never came before the Legislature for a vote, is invalid. So far, no opinion has been rendered, Assistant County Attorney Michael J. Ingham told the committee Monday.
Legislator Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, chairman of the Public Works Committee, said the 2002 deal, signed by AFSCME President Edward McDonald and Bradley E. Erck, the Legislature's chairman at the time, appears to contradict provisions of the April 2001 lease with the town.
Earlier this year, the county sought to avoid the possibility of having to reimburse the town by seeking State Legislature approval to transfer title to the town.
However, that bill never passed the Assembly, a situation Austin and Burmaster blame on the union's lobbying of Assembly Democrats.
"It is our full intent to go back to Albany [on] Jan. 1 and seek a home-rule message allowing the transfer of this land," Burmaster said.