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Niagara Legislature orders voting machine storage contract for Ulrich

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature voted along party lines Tuesday in favor of a new five-year contract for voting machine storage for a company owned by Lockport developer David L. Ulrich.

The Legislature chose the option of paying $3.95 per square foot, or $568,800 over the five-year term of the contract, in exchange for giving up a clause allowing the county to move out with 120 days’ notice. Had the county stuck with the out clause, Ulrich’s price would have been $4.25 a foot, or $612,000 over five years.

“The cancellation clause is for our protection. We shouldn’t be giving that up,” said Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls.

“We’re here to save the county money. That’s what we should be doing, right?” County Attorney Claude A. Joerg replied.

“I think five years is a reasonable lock-in period. We’re not going to be uprooting that operation,” County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said.

“We could build a building a lot cheaper than this. It would pay for itself in two years. We don’t need 28,000 square feet, either,” Virtuoso said. The four Democrats said the county should have done a study to determine how much space is really needed.

Virtuoso said, “There’s a ton of space that isn’t being utilized.”

The vote was 9-4, with the GOP majority carrying the day. Ulrich is a frequent campaign contributor to Republican candidates, but he also was low bidder.

Since 2009, the county has been storing its machines in a former mattress factory in Newfane, owned by Ulrich. The county rents 28,800 square feet of space there, and it’s 12 miles from Lockport.

The request for proposals for voting machine storage asked for 28,800 square feet of space within 12 miles of Lockport.

The 12-mile radius was given up three days before the bidding deadline, and Glatz said no one called for an extension.

The Legislature wanted to seek new bids last year, but it was unable to do so then because it missed the 120-day notice deadline. It passed a resolution for new bids earlier this year.

In February, Ulrich gave the county notice that he was terminating the deal as of Aug. 1. He eventually allowed the county to keep the machines in Newfane for the rest of this year, but he doubled the price from $3 to $6 per square foot, costing the county $14,400 a month instead of the previous $7,200 a month.

Niagara Frontier Distribution offered space in a warehouse on Old Saunders Settlement Road in Lockport for $4.25 per foot, dropping to $4 by the fifth year and then rising to $4.10 in years 6 through 10 and $4.20 in years 11 through 15. However, that company would have to install a climate-control system and other infrastructure, which Ulrich’s site already has.

In other matters, the Legislature confirmed the appointments of Laura J. Kelemen as mental health director and Nina M. Cabrera as veterans services director.

Also Tuesday, the Legislature voted to pay $108,827 to cover legal fees for the National Center for Law and Economic Justice in New York City, which sued the county over its failure to process welfare and food stamp applications in a timely fashion. The county admitted that it failed to meet deadlines for processing applications because of short-staffing.