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City takes step to study water supply merger

The Common Council agreed Wednesday to join Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda in seeking a state grant to study whether it would be feasible to merge their water supply operations.

The Council approved a joint grant application for a maximum of $600,000 to explore joining forces with the water units in the other two cities in Niagara County.

Lockport's drinking water is pumped from the Niagara River at North Tonawanda. The city has been raising water rates annually to try to combat a long-standing deficit in its water fund.

Lockport also has been complaining for years about property taxes it has to pay to the municipalities through which the water supply line runs. This year's bill was $240,864, paid to North Tonawanda, the towns of Wheatfield and Pendleton and the North Tonawanda, Niagara-Wheatfield and Starpoint school districts. The Town of Lockport and the Lockport City School District do not tax the city's right-of-way.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker said there has been no commitment to join up with Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda on water services, because many questions have to be answered about how such an arrangement would work in practice.

"If we can get that grant to get those answers, we can decide if it's feasible," Tucker said. The grant would be sought from the New York State Shared Municipal Services Incentive Grant Program. There would be a local matching share, which would be divided among the three cities, Tucker said.

On another topic Wednesday, the Council agreed to explore joining the Statewide Wireless Network, voting in favor of what Police Chief Neil B. Merritt said was a "preplanning resolution." He said a representative from M/A COM, the equipment vendor chosen by Albany to set up the network, would visit the city to assess its needs.

Merritt said he is in favor of full membership for Lockport in the system, which is meant to remove communications obstacles among police and emergency agencies with different radio systems. "If you don't sign on as a full partner and federal money becomes available, you don't get any federal funds for the transition," Merritt said.

He estimated it might cost $200,000 for the city to update its police radio gear, from portable units to consoles at headquarters, to fully utilize the network. M/A COM is constructing the first antennas for the system in Erie and Chautauqua counties now, with competition of the statewide system scheduled for 2010.

Also Wednesday, the Council voted to formally apply for state reimbursement for the cost of this fall's reconstruction of East Avenue. The city had to pay the entire $1.7 million cost up front.

The aldermen disagreed on how to spend a $36,000 insurance payment the city is to receive shortly to partially cover the costs of repairing a traffic signal pole dragged down when a truck struck the wires overhanging the intersection of Main and Cottage streets during the winter of 2001.

Alderman Joseph C. Kibler, R-at Large, wanted to use it to repair the roof of a storage building in Outwater Park. But Alderman Patrick W. Schrader, D-4th Ward, said he was against spending the money "on a building to keep two ancient fire trucks warm."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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