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Consultant's Wal-Mart tie stalls project

North Tonawanda's master plan process has stalled due to a possible conflict of interest over the hiring of a consultant already employed by the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Second Ward Alderman Kevin Brick said during Tuesday's workshop meeting that he would rather the city pay more money by choosing one of the other two consultants "and avoid the potential conflict."

Lumber City Development Corp., the agency overseeing the master plan project, on April 10 recommended Bergmann Associates to assist the city in developing its master plan. Bergmann is also the engineering firm working on the Wal-Mart project.

James B. Sullivan, executive director of the corporation, said the Master Plan Steering Committee would be the entity in control of the project, not the consultant. He said Bergmann is attractive because it came in with the lowest bid.

And Andrew J. Raus, principal planner for Bergmann, did satisfactory work on the city's downtown redevelopment plan and has agreed to do the master plan without pay, Sullivan said.

"It's an incredible bid moneywise," Sullivan said.

The city has $50,000 for a consultant; Bergmann seeks $45,000 to $47,000. Peter J. Smith & Co., which requested $72,500, and Greenman-Pedersen Inc., which asked for $73,750, were the other two.

First Ward Alderman Phillip Rizzo said the master plan is for the entire city, not just the small Wal-Mart area, so there should be no issue.

"I can't see the conflict of interest in one part of the city when he's going to be doing the whole city," Rizzo said.

In a letter, Raus wrote he would recuse himself from the project if he believed there was a conflict and reiterated the leadership role of the steering committee.

"In no instance will this plan reflect recommendations that are not the express will of the steering committee," Raus said in the letter. "This can be assured by having a diverse representation of the city's stakeholders on the steering committee as well as city staff that will oversee the process and audit the consultant's actions."

Brick said he would contact Raus with his concerns.

During the workshop, a couple of special sessions were held to vote on lowering the city treasurer's salary and establishing special districts for the Briarwood subdivision. The Council unanimously passed the Briarwood subdivision special assessment districts to finance sanitary sewers, storm water sewers, water mains, paving and other infrastructure projects for the new subdivision.

On the mayor's recommendation to decrease the city treasurer's $59,900 annual pay, the Council agreed to lower it to $54,000, effective Jan. 1, 2008, when a newly elected treasurer takes office.

Mayor Lawrence V. Soos said former Treasurer Leslie J. Stolzenfels, who stepped down after 24 years to become deputy treasurer of Niagara County, might have been receiving $59,900 because of longevity and experience in the post. He said the reduced salary would be a cost-saving measure.

But Council President Brett Sommer said salaries should be decided based on "the office and role."

In 2003, the position offered $53,027. A year later it jumped to $59,900.

e-mail: esapong@buffnews.com

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