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As Niagara Falls / Tales of the strange but true

>Tax dollars at work

Lockport Common Council President John Lombardi III has picked up a new duty: decorating the Council Chambers.

Lombardi agreed to post the entries in the mayor's Christmas coloring contest and was handed a small box of drawings.

Little did he know there were also two larger boxes of entries, more than 400 in all. Lombardi found himself hanging every one on the walls of the meeting room.

"Erin gave me some push pins," Lombardi said, referring to Erin Buerger, the mayor's secretary. "I said, 'Forget that; give me the stapler!' "

That's what he used to put up the drawings -- for 2 1/2 hours.

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>Mistaken identity

Niagara County Legislature Chairman William L. Ross interrupted Tuesday's meeting to congratulate Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane.

"He has a trifecta now -- three daughters," Ross announced.

Syracuse said his third girl, Sidney Elaine, was born Dec. 1.

"The fourth one's always a boy," Ross said.

"I thought the third one was a boy," Syracuse answered.

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>Big and ubiquitous

Santa Claus is everywhere this time of year. How does he do it?

Why, in Niagara County alone next weekend, the big guy is scheduled to appear from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Smokin' Joe's Family Fun Center in Niagara Falls, at a children's Christmas party from 3 to 9 p.m. the same day in the Niagara Arts & Cultural Center, Niagara Falls, in the North Tonawanda Senior Center for breakfast and lunch on Saturday and in Braccetto's Restaurant in Lockport from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.

Then there are mall stints, not to mention making a list, checking it twice and making and packing all those toys.

The Santa Claus at The Summit mall in Wheatfield claims to hold the key to the all-important holiday question. Todd R. Habschied of North Tonawanda says he is the "original" Santa and has "helpers" all over the place. He will let you in on some other secrets on Page NC3.

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>Power play

Let it be said that politicians in Western New York tend to find it virtually impossible to leave piles of money alone.

The latest example came Wednesday during a meeting of the Niagara Power Coalition, whose members will split about $1.1 billion in payments and low-cost electricity during the next half century from the New York Power Authority, as part of the relicensing settlement on the Niagara Power Project.

A new state Niagara River Greenway Commission has been established to make planning and spending recommendations for how some of that money should be used to protect and redevelop Niagara River communities.

The commission is made up of an array of civic leaders from Niagara and Erie counties, working as volunteers.

Their recommendations may fall on deaf ears in Niagara Falls.

"It is our understanding that the $3 million was allocated to us," Falls School Superintendent Carmen A Granto said. "They don't approve or disapprove of projects. We determine how to spend it, not them."

Falls Mayor Vince Anello agreed. "The big brother approach with the state is not going to happen," he said.

So much for cooperation.

With contributions from Thomas J. Prohaska, Pam Kowalik and Nancy A. Fischer of the News Niagara Bureau.

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