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Niagara Legislature opposes Syrian refugees

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature on Tuesday joined the chorus of criticism of President Obama’s determination to stick with his plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States.

In a last-minute addition to the agenda, the legislators voted unanimously to endorse Rep. Chris Collins’ co-sponsorship of a bill to temporarily bar the admission of all refugees, in reaction to the discovery that one of the terrorists behind Friday’s Paris attacks may have been a Syrian refugee.

Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, said, “Let’s not let people we can’t vet come into our country and put our first responders in danger.”

“I have a problem if a boatload of these people shows up on the border of Niagara County,” said Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville. “Social services costs will go up. Our taxes will go up … We have unemployment in Niagara County. There aren’t enough jobs for the people we have here.”

The Democratic leader, Dennis F. Virtuoso of Niagara Falls, voted for the resolution but pointed out that neither the county nor Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo can stop the refugees.

“What’s (Cuomo) supposed to do if they come to New York State? Call out the National Guard and stop them?” Virtuoso asked.

The resolution ordered county department heads to report immediately to the Legislature if they hear of any efforts to settle Syrians in Niagara County. It didn’t say what the Legislature would do with such information.

Meanwhile, the Legislature saluted retiring County Clerk Wayne F. Jagow for his 20 years in office, which finished more than 40 years in county service. Before becoming clerk in 1995, he was in the Sheriff’s Office for more than 20 years, retiring as chief of the juvenile division.

“He’s one of the most honorable men I ever met,” said Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport. “There are big shoes to fill.”

“You ran a great department with courteous employees,” Virtuoso told Jagow, a Lockport Republican who also served as a Lutheran pastor during much of his career.

Jagow, who didn’t run for a sixth term, is being replaced by Joseph A. Jastrzemski, R-Wilson, as of Jan. 1. Jagow said Tuesday’s ceremony was “bittersweet,” but he said, “It gives me a chance to say thank you to the legislators … Thank you to the people of Niagara County. You elected me and put me in this position, and it was a wonderful, wonderful experience.”

The Legislature voted to host a series of public hearings on the proposed 2016 county budget in the County Courthouse in Lockport on Dec. 1, starting at 6 p.m. with the Water District budget, 6:10 for the Sewer District, 6:20 for the Refuse Disposal District and 6:30 for the general budget. The latter is the one in which the countywide average property tax rate is to fall 3.7 percent. Spending in the $339.1 million plan is to rise $2.46 million, or 0.73 percent.

The budget leaves legislators’ salaries unchanged at $15,075, with an extra $500 for the party leaders and an extra $3,000 for the chairman. The legislators have received only one raise in the past 25 years, a $3,000 boost in 1999.

Also on Dec. 1, the Legislature will hold a hearing at 6:45 p.m. on a law that would ban the sale of consumer products containing microbeads. Erie and Chautauqua counties already have done so.