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$44,000 in aid for youths jeopardized Youth Board failure to meet prompts warning from state

More than $44,000 in state funding for youth programs is on hold until the city's Youth Board -- defunct for the last two years -- is reinstated with 13 members and an executive director, according to city officials.

City Council members said at Monday's meeting they were never told they needed to appoint more members to the Youth Board in order to fulfill funding requirements of the state's Office of Children and Family Services.

"The funding is being held because the board has not functioned for two years," said Councilman Chris A. Robins. "These problems started in 2005."

At least $30,000 of the expected state money has been allocated by the city for before- and after-school programs run by the Niagara Falls Boys and Girls Club, the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities.

Mayor Vince V. Anello said that Mario Tonellato, former director of the city's Youth Services Division and executive director of the Youth Board, had trouble mustering a quorum. The mayor said the Council should have asked Tonellato about the Youth Board.

"I'm not going to ask that question if I don't know the problem exists," shot back Councilman Charles Walker. "Not one time has it been said to us, 'I have not met with my board for the last two years because no one attends meetings.'"

Anello said he was not aware of the extent of the problem until he received some letters this year from the state warning the money could be withheld.

He later said some of the nonprofit groups that benefit from the funds called him three or four months ago, but that Tonellato was working with the state to solve the problem at the time. Anello said if the Council wanted a better answer he would call for an executive session because it was a personnel matter.

Tonellato's position was cut from the city's 2007 budget by the Council in November, and Robins said the specifications of a new position to oversee the golf course as well as the city's youth and recreation services may have to be altered to comply with state guidelines.

Robins said the youth funding is on "fiscal hold" and the city could be sanctioned a pro-rated amount of the $44,000 aid for the length of the year the city had no executive director on its Youth Board.

Also on Monday:

* Acting Corporation Counsel Damon DeCastro said he still has no proposed amendment to the city's 2003 development agreement with Niagara Falls Redevelopment.

The current development agreement calls for a $12 million entertainment and retail facility to have been completed at Falls and Tenth streets by April 1, but the only development on that site is a foundation that was laid in 2005.

DeCastro said the city has not declared the company in default for not fulfilling that portion of the agreement, but will keep up negotiations regarding a new or amended contract.

"We're going to give them an extension while we're negotiating," DeCastro said. "The status quo will last for at least another 30 days."

* The Council narrowly voted to hold off on a funding agreement for $500,000 in casino funding to match a state grant to be used to replace the roof at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center. Councilman Lewis Rotella said he wants to see three bids for the roof before he's willing to approve the agreement, while Robins and Walker said they wanted to move forward with the agreement.

* Rev. Jimmie Seright, executive director of the New Jerusalem Boys' Reporting Center, told the Council that the year-old job training component of the program was canceled on Friday due to a lack of funding. The Council at its last meeting rejected a request from Anello to give $100,000 in interest earned from casino revenues to that program for at-risk boys.

e-mail: gfranklin@buffnews.com

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