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Scandal won't affect new power agency

Start-up money paid by the members of Niagara County's new electric agency will be kept separate from the funds of the Niagara Power Coalition, County Legislature Chairman William L. Ross assured his colleagues Tuesday.

Replying to a question from Legislator Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls, Ross said the distribution agency won't be affected by the burgeoning scandal about Power Coalition financial practices under its former chairman, Mark S. Zito.

Ross made the statement as the Legislature's Administration Committee approved a contract tying the county to Power Niagara Inc., the new municipal distribution agency that will funnel district electricity from the Niagara Power Project to six or seven local governments.

If the full Legislature approves next week, the county will pay $66,600 of the $185,000 kitty to establish the new agency. The members are being allocated 25 megawatts a year and will use it for their own operations and for economic development.

The other members -- the City of Niagara Falls, the Niagara Falls, Lewiston-Porter and Niagara-Wheatfield school districts and the towns of Niagara and Lewiston -- will pay lesser amounts.

The shares are based on the amount of electricity each is receiving from the New York Power Authority under terms of a relicensing agreement for the power plant.

Lewiston, which wants to use its 3.5-megawatt share for residential consumers, has so far declined to join the agency, although it was a member of the Power Coalition that negotiated the deal.

Ross held out hope the town may change its mind, but he said the other members won't have to pay more if Lewiston stays out.

In fact, he said all of them except the county already have paid their dues. "I have their checks," Ross said, adding he is awaiting only the granting of a tax identification number for Power Niagara before they are deposited.

The checks are being held at the county Center for Economic Development in Wheatfield, Ross said.

"These contributions are going into a separate account," said Ross, C-Wheat
field, who took over as chairman of the Power Coalition last year. "The problems you're reading about in the paper are not going to have any impact on it."

Auditors and attorneys have told the Power Coalition board that Zito's salary appeared as income on the tax returns of his son one year and his girlfriend in another year. Also, for four years in a row, Zito was paid $1,000 more than the coalition board had agreed to pay him.

Zito, a Niagara Falls school board member, resigned Monday as chairman of the Niagara County Independence Party committee.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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