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Ross, Burmaster, Updegrove retain leadership posts

The top leadership of the Niagara County Legislature will be unchanged next year, but the Republican-led majority caucus may be grooming some fresh faces for more responsibility.

Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, will continue in his post in 2012, the caucus decided at its annual Christmas dinner Wednesday night in the Shamus Restaurant.

It will be the ninth year that Ross has served as chairman, the most of anyone in the county's history.

Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, and Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, also will retain their positions.

But Updegrove will have two new deputies. Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, who has served four years, will be first deputy majority leader, and Legislator David E. Godfrey, R-Wilson, who has been in office only since April 2010, will be second deputy.

Updegrove, who will serve his sixth consecutive year as majority leader, said Wojtaszek and Godfrey were chosen "in recognition of their efforts with the 'narrowbanding' mandate."

That refers to the federal requirement that the county build a new emergency radio system whose signals will take up less space on the radio spectrum. Tuesday, the Legislature authorized negotiations on a contract with Motorola Solutions.

Wojtaszek, as chairman of the Community Safety and Security Committee, and Godfrey, a veteran volunteer firefighter, were key players in the lengthy process that cut the expected cost of the job by more than half.

"I think a very key point is that the discussion started at $22 million or $23 million, and got down to a $10 million figure," Ross said.

"We managed to comply with the federal mandate and address the concerns of our first responders at a reduced cost to the taxpayers," Updegrove said.

Godfrey also is working on a regional alliance with Orleans County on common issues, including shoreline protection, narrowbanding and farmland protection. The two counties may share a radio tower for their emergency services.

The majority caucus in the downsized Legislature will have a 12-3 advantage over the Democrats. The majority now comprises 10 Republicans, a Conservative and a member of the Independence Party.

"I'm very happy they had the confidence in me for a ninth term," Ross said. As for issues in 2012, he said, "Our No. 1 mission is to back the state takeover of Medicaid."

The largest item in every county budget, Medicaid will cost a projected $45.5 million in 2012 as Niagara's 25 percent share of its cost.

Ross, the only Niagara County lawmaker ever to serve on the executive board of the State Association of Counties, expects a big push in support of a bill by State Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma, to have the state gradually assume all Medicaid costs.

"The [tax cap] law is fine, but it won't work for counties without mandate relief," Ross said. "Counties cannot be the cash register for state government."