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Niagara County lawmakers to vote on hiring lobbyists for $60,000

The Niagara County Legislature is set to vote Tuesday on hiring two high-powered lobbying firms to work on its behalf in Albany.

Capital Public Strategies would work for economic development funding, while Masiello, Martucci, Calabrese & Associates will concentrate on homeland security matters, County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said.

Both firms would be hired for six months at $5,000 a month. In the case of Capital Public Strategies, the county Industrial Development Agency will pay half of the total cost of $30,000.

The Albany-based firm worked for the county for six months in 2009.

Capital Public Strategies' proposal to the county includes promises to work on behalf of the county and the IDA to obtain power allocations under the state's new Recharge New York program, which takes effect July 1.

The firm also says it can help promote county requests for funding for specific projects through the state's new regional economic development councils, assist the search for tax credits for businesses and help protect the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station from the next round of Pentagon cutbacks.

The county already is helping the Niagara Military Affairs Council pay for a Washington lobbying firm, Hyjek & Fix, to work on behalf of the base.

Capital Public Strategies also told the county it can work in the foreign private sector to try to find markets for Niagara County businesses, including its wineries, and to find foreign companies that might be able to ship cargo through Niagara Falls International Airport.

The firm consists of former state and federal bureaucrats, none of whom have any apparent direct connection to Niagara County politics.

Masiello, Martucci, Calabrese, on the other hand, features two well-known local pols: former Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello and former Deputy Erie County Executive Carl J. Calabrese, who now lives in Wheatfield.

That firm was first hired by the county last year, and this is a six-month extension at the same price that will take the contract through June, Glatz said.

The manager said one thing he would like to see the lobbyists do is pull strings to make federal homeland security funding reappear for Niagara and Erie counties and the City of Buffalo.

The region used to receive millions of dollars each year, but the Obama administration changed the allocation standards and wiped out Buffalo Niagara's security funding.

"We were on the list, we were in the top 10, and then we got dropped off," Glatz said. "I just think it's a travesty with the type of risk factors we have."

He was referring to the international bridges and important facilities such as the air base and the Niagara Power Project.

"A lot of people don't realize how we're getting beaten up in this area," Glatz said. "If [the lobbying] doesn't work, it's not because we didn't try."

The county did manage to attain a $2 million grant toward its new emergency system from the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

Announced in December, the grant is to be formally accepted by the Legislature Tuesday.

Glatz said it will be applied toward the $10 million "narrowbanding" project that will comply with an unfunded federal mandate to squeeze emergency radio and data transmissions into a smaller space on the broadcast spectrum.

"Let's just say a solid team effort, great grant application and a solid narrowbanding plan really helped us," Sheriff James R. Voutour said.

Glatz said the county has saved up other homeland security grants, so with the new $2 million, the county will have to borrow only $5 million, or half the project's cost.

Thomas Beatty, Sheriff's Office chief deputy, said the $2 million was the maximum amount available in the first round of funding for interoperable communications, meaning radios that can reach users in other police or fire agencies.

"It's going to go a long way toward the end-user equipment, which is the radios the first responders are using," said Legislator David E. Godfrey, R-Wilson.

Beatty said the county intends to apply in two subsequent rounds of communications grants from Albany. In the next round, the state is supposed to make $45 million available, and $75 million is supposed to be up for grabs in the last round.

The county also pocketed a $15,000 member item, or state handout, from State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane. The money will be used to buy radio repeater devices that will allow local amateur radio operators, or "hams," to communicate better with each other during emergencies.