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Newly purchased Niagara County building may be named for Ross

LOCKPORT – Niagara County Legislature Chairman William L. Ross is stepping down at the end of the year, but his colleagues intend to make sure he’s not forgotten.

A resolution on Tuesday’s Legislature agenda, sponsored by all the other members of the Republican-led majority, would name the just-purchased building at 20-40 East Ave. in Ross’ honor.

Ross received the call telling him about the resolution as he was driving Friday. “I was taken aback. I’m glad I didn’t have an accident on Route 31,” said Ross, C-Wheatfield.

He is by far the longest-serving chairman of the Legislature, having been chosen to the seat 12 times. He was chairman for the first time in 1989, when he was a Democrat. He left the Legislature when he was defeated in the 1993 election, but came back six years later as a Conservative endorsed by the GOP. He returned to the chairmanship in 2004 and has held it every year but one since then.

“He’s been an icon around Niagara County, recognized by his colleagues for leadership,” said Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane.

What would become the William L. Ross County Office Building is currently the headquarters of the county Social Services Department. The county purchased the building, along with two others in downtown Lockport, at an auction last month. The county had been leasing it for more than a decade.

The resolution calls for the building to be renamed as of Jan. 1, the day after Ross’ term of office expires, and schedules a dedication ceremony for Jan. 4. It also declares that Jan. 3-9 will be observed as William L. Ross Week in Niagara County.

“I’m very, very touched by it. It’s a great honor,” Ross said. “I never thought when I got into local government that something like this would happen.

“I like county government. There’s been a few bumps in the road, but overall, it’s been a great ride.”

It’s not an unprecedented honor. The building in which the county manager’s and county treasurer’s offices are located, at Park Avenue and Hawley Street, was named for retired Legislator Philo J. Brooks of Ransomville in 1999, six years after he left office. Before that, it was called the Nelson Building, after the auto dealership that occupied it before the county bought the structure.

Ross, 81, announced April 2 that he would not seek re-election this year.

“It’s appropriate that Niagara County shows its appreciation for a lifetime of dedication to Niagara County and the school district, as well,” Syracuse said. He was referring to the Niagara Wheatfield School District, where Ross worked for 47 years as a teacher, coach, assistant principal and athletic director.

He also has served as a councilman in the Town of Niagara and in Wheatfield. He is the only Niagara County official ever named to the executive board of the New York Association of Counties.

Ross said he may use his authority as chairman to send the resolution honoring him to committee, instead of invoking Rule 15, which allows immediate action without committee referral.

“It would be pretty hard to implement Rule 15 on something like that,” he said. “Certainly there should be a discussion on it.”

It remains to be seen whether his colleagues will allow that to stand.