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Consolidation moves forward in Tonawanda

A “one-stop shop” for planning and development in the Town of Tonawanda took another step closer to reality Monday when the Town Board agreed to hire architectural consultant AECOM to help establish a Town Development Services Center.

The town is in the midst of consolidating its Planning, Technical Support, Engineering, Building and Economic and Community Development departments that began late last year.

“We’re looking for improved communications, collaboration among the departments that handle projects and development services in the town,” said James D. Hartz, the town’s planning director. “We’re creating a one-stop shop. That’s the idea, for residents and businesses that are coming in to do business with the town.”

For years, the departments have been physically separated into “silos,” with offices spread across the town, Hartz told the board at its afternoon work session. His office is in the Sheridan Parkside section, while the Building Department is on Belmont Avenue and Technical Support is in the Municipal Building. Hiring AECOM is seen as the next step toward consolidating the departments in one location.

“We’re streamlining the process for everyone in trying to make it more efficient,” Councilman John A. Bargnesi Jr. said. “And this is the next step – actually trying to figure out where we’re putting everybody and how we’re setting it up.”

Late last year, the town cut ties with an independent contractor, Town of Tonawanda Development Corp., which previously had the task of attracting new businesses to the town. Town officials preferred to move those duties in-house and also saw it as a cost-saving measure. Now, AECOM will assist the town with evaluating potential sites for the new service center.

“This is a potential way to improve organization and the way things operate,” Hartz told the board during the work session. “This is essentially a study to provide alternatives to the Town Board to look at the costs and benefits of whether or not this can happen, and where this can happen.”

The vote in favor of hiring AECOM was 4-0, with Supervisor Anthony F. Caruana absent. Councilman Joseph H. Emminger, who presided over Monday’s meeting as deputy supervisor, explained that Caruana underwent unexpected surgery last week but has been discharged from the hospital and is at home recovering. Emminger said that he did not know the timeline for Caruana’s return but that the supervisor is “in good spirits.”

Also Monday, the date was set for the board’s 2016 budget work sessions. They will be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 and 15 in Council Chambers at the Municipal Building. The budget message will be delivered at the board’s next meeting Oct. 5.

After a public hearing, the board also agreed to have traffic signs installed along Pirson Parkway, the new road being built through the town’s new North Youngmann Commerce Center. It’s the first new road built in the town since Riverwalk Parkway was constructed through the Riverview Solar Technology Park in 2005, said Town Engineer James B. Jones.