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$8.6 million in borrowing up for vote

The Common Council is expected to vote next week on $8.6 million in borrowing authorizations for projects ranging from new roofs for city buildings to the demolition of the downtown parking ramp.

City Treasurer Michael E. White told the aldermen Wednesday that passing the four separate bond resolutions he is recommending doesn't commit them to spending the money right away -- or ever.

He said the authorizations are good for 10 years, and Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said separate future votes will be needed for each purchase.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker said the Council will have to settle some long-standing issues.

One example would be the future of the parking ramp at Main and Pine streets, closed since 2007. White proposes borrowing $2.62 million to tear it down and replace it with a surface parking lot.

There have been other proposals for the site, but nothing has been done because no money was available.

Another issue would be whether the city's police and fire dispatching chores should be shifted to the Niagara County Sheriff's Office.

White's plan calls for borrowing $150,000 to buy two 911 consoles and comply with the federal "narrowbanding" mandate for emergency radio systems.

But that money doesn't have to be borrowed if the city isn't going to do its own dispatching anymore, a change the Police Department and its union have resisted.

However, Tucker said new roofs for City Hall, the water and sewer plants, and the salt barn, along with new heating and air-conditioning systems for City Hall and part of the sewer plant, are most urgent. The total price tag for that package is $2.7 million.

Another major item is $600,000 to complete the change from water meters that need to be read by a city employee to high-tech meters that can be scanned from a passing vehicle.

About 3,400 meters have been replaced, White said, but 4,229 remain to be done.

"We've been doing this haphazardly, $50,000 or $100,000 at a time," said Alderman Patrick W. Schrader, D-4th Ward. "This would complete the whole show. It would make things more efficient and quicker."

"If we get this in place, we could probably drop the manpower of that department from three to two," Tucker said.

Schrader said the new meters can better detect slow leaks.

"That's how I ended up with a $1,000 water bill. The meter found it," said Alderwoman Kathryn J. "Kitty" Fogle, R-3rd Ward.

The city currently has its highest credit rating ever from the major Wall Street rating firms, and interest rates are low.

White said he expects that the city will have to pay 2.15 to 2.35 percent on tax-exempt municipal bonds or 1.3 to 1.5 percent on one-year notes.

The city owes less than $7 million on current debt, including interest costs. Its debt limit is almost $49 million, and water and sewer projects don't count against that limit, White said. However, he warned the Council that low debt "is an indication that the city has not been keeping up with its capital improvement needs."