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Niagara County sets public hearing on registering people who abuse animals

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature will consider a local law to create a county registry of people who are convicted of abusing animals that would prevent any pet adoption agency or store from selling animals to them.

After a vote at last week’s session, a public hearing on the proposal was set for 6:45 p.m. Oct. 20, just before that night’s Legislature meeting.

Abusers would have to pay $125 when they register, a format modeled on the state sex offender registry, which also charges a fee to new offenders. The animal abusers’ photos, names and addresses will remain on the website for 15 years. Address changes would have to be reported within five days.

The penalty is up to $5,000 for abusers who possess animals and for shelters, agencies or stores that provide animals to abusers. Failure to register carries a fine of up to $2,000.

The measure is co-sponsored by the Legislature’s four Niagara Falls Democrats: Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, Jason A. Zona, Owen T. Steed and Mark J. Grozio.

On another topic, resolutions calling for changes in the county’s policies on welfare housing will be hashed out during committee meetings Oct. 13, according to Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield.

In the wake of a Buffalo News report on a Falls landlord who collected more than $300,000 from the county in welfare housing allowances while owing more than $1 million in unpaid taxes, Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, proposed to repeal the 2013 resolution that directed welfare clients’ monthly rent allowances to their landlords. The direct payments were approved after landlords complained that welfare recipients weren’t always paying their rent with the money.

Legislator Randy R. Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, proposed amending the policy to require landlords to show that their property taxes are current before they receive the money.

The Democrats proposed going forward with the next step in welfare housing reform by requiring code inspections before any dwelling can be rented to a welfare client.

Robert D. Pascoal, president of the Landlords Association of Greater Niagara, told the Legislature last week that he supports that and that the next step in reform of the housing system would be to make welfare clients accountable for property damage left behind when they leave. “We believe the policies in practice today are unsustainable,” he said.

Also last week, the Legislature extended the 8 percent sales tax in the county for another two years, until Nov. 30, 2017.

The Legislature also agreed to refinance $5.1 million still owed on some past borrowing. The bonds originally were issued in 2007 and 2008 to pay for various public works projects, chiefly roads and bridges, County Treasurer Kyle R. Andrews said. The county borrowed more than $7.3 million on those bonds, with interest rates ranging from 4.14 to 4.75 percent.

Andrews estimated an interest rate of 2.38 percent on the refinancing of the last 12 years of that debt, saving the county a projected $236,000 in interest costs.