The chief of the Niagara County Drug Task Force says Town of Lockport officials helped a local company beat out the county in an auction for a building both coveted in the town's industrial park.
Town Attorney Daniel E. Seaman and Lewis L. Staley, executive director of the town's Industrial Development Agency, denied the allegation, but also indicated they did not consider a new headquarters for the Drug Task Force a suitable tenant for the industrial park.
"Is that the best use for an industrial building?" Seaman asked.
The dispute centers on the Oct. 26 auction held in the Niagara County Courthouse. First Niagara Bank had foreclosed on the former Lock City Sprinkler building in the IDA Park off Upper Mountain Road.
Custom Laser, a company located across the driveway in the industrial park, wanted the 6,000-square-foot steel building to expand its business. But the Sheriff's Department sought the building for the Drug Task Force, as well as a facility to store vehicles and evidence.
The County Legislature voted Oct. 17 to appropriate $180,000 from the county's contingency fund to allow Drug Task Force Chief Mark Driess to bid at the auction.
Attorney Mark Salterelli, the court-appointed referee for the foreclosure, conducted the auction and announced the bank had set the opening bid at $180,000.
Asked if the amount was a coincidence, First Niagara spokeswoman Leslie Garrity said: "Opening bids are set on a case-by-case basis. In this case, it was set based on our appraisals, but also took into account the quality of the property and the location. We followed our regular processes and procedures."
Gary Brockman, co-owner of Custom Laser, had called the bank as early as last spring to enquire about the auction.
"They asked me what I was going to bid, and I said, 'Probably $180,000.' " Brockman recalled. "The auction opened at $180,000, and everybody stood there. We were hoping it would go lower. [Town attorney Seaman] came over and said, 'If you want it, you have to bid $180,000, otherwise the bank will buy it back.' "
So Brockman bid $180,000, and Driess was unable to put in a higher offer since that would have exceeded the county authorization. Three other bidders also passed, and Custom Laser won the building for $180,000.
"The highest bidder wins," Lockport Supervisor Marc R. Smith said. "If the county couldn't afford to pay what the market will bear, too bad. Next time, bring more money."