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Tonawanda supervisor spotlights community, economic developments

Progress on the community and economic development fronts in the Town of Tonawanda were key in a generally upbeat message delivered Friday during the annual State of the Town address.

The last of 60 new, single-family homes built over 19 years in the Kenilworth neighborhood as part of a federal affordable-housing program sold last year for $160,000, Town Supervisor Anthony F. Caruana said during a luncheon at Cardinal O’Hara High School. The neighborhood was also elevated from a low- to middle-income designation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, he said.

“This is great news,” Caruana said. “Kenilworth now stands as a very successful testimony to the Neighborhood Revitalization Project.”

More than 180 new homes have been built in the town through HUD’s HOME program, he said. Also, 16 units of vacant, blighted housing were demolished last year in the Sheridan Parkside neighborhood to make way for future development, he said.

“The town will continue to work with the county land bank on future acquisitions,” he said.

Caruana also spotlighted development of the town-owned North Youngmann Commerce Center, where construction of a bridge spanning 100 feet over Two Mile Creek is underway. Work on the site’s Pirson Parkway will begin “very soon,” Caruana said, with utilities also to be added.

Meanwhile, two businesses are the first to break ground at the 87-acre site.

Zaepfel Development is constructing a 310,000-square-foot packaging and distribution center for First Source, which makes confections and specialty foods. The $17 million project on 39 acres will be completed later this year, Caruana said, adding that the company plans to add 25 new jobs.

And Unifrax is investing $18 million to construct a 76,000-square-foot plant on 12 acres to produce polycrystalline fibers, “bringing technology that’s currently being used in Japan to the United States industrial market,” he said. Unifrax also plans to create 25 new jobs.

“Combined, these two companies have invested more than $35 million to create 50 jobs and maintain another 150 – the first time since the 1930s that these properties will be back on our tax rolls,” he said.

The news was not all rosy. As in previous years, Caruana sounded a warning on increased payments due for the town’s debt service brought on by costly state-mandated upgrades to its aging infrastructure.

“This budget challenge can only be met with cost-cutting in other areas and will only become more difficult in future years due to increasing underfunded and unfunded mandates that we are faced with,” he said.

The town’s Youth, Parks and Recreation Department was a victim of that cost cutting, with unprecedented cutbacks this year to services and programs.

“The method of running the operation had to be revised to reflect the changing demographics of our community and the changing labor market,” Caruana said.

The minimum wage increase is expected to hit the department hard, adding “tens of thousands of dollars” to payroll each year for its 500 seasonal employees utilized over the summer months, he said.

Friday’s address could be Caruana’s last. The town supervisor’s office is up for election this year. Caruana said after Friday’s event he has not yet decided whether he will seek a third term, but that he will announce his intentions by late May.