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Niagara County Legislature salutes retiring chairman Ross

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature, along with a gaggle of past and present officeholders, on Tuesday saluted William L. Ross, who is retiring as Legislature chairman at the end of the year after a record-setting tenure in office.

Ross, 82, a Wheatfield Conservative, has served 12 years as chairman, by far the most of any Legislature chief in county history. He was a Democrat the first time he was chosen in 1989. As a Conservative, Ross has served as chairman since 2004, with the sole exception of 2007.

Ross didn’t run for re-election to his Legislature seat this year, ending a 30-year career in elective office. He was first elected as a legislator in 1987, and after three terms was defeated. He came back in 1999 and has been in office ever since.

Besides his time in the Legislature, Ross also served as a councilman in the towns of Niagara and Wheatfield. He also spent 47 years as a teacher, coach and administrator in the Niagara Wheatfield Central School District.

“I’m not a creative guy, believe me, but I know when an idea’s a good idea, and I’m going to put my teeth in that idea and follow through,” Ross said. He thanked his colleagues and his family for their support.

“They know I’m going to go to meetings, because if I don’t go to meetings I think I’m missing something,” Ross said.

State Supreme Court Justice Paul F. Wojtaszek and Legislators Owen T. Steed and John Syracuse gave Ross a copy of the broadcast, the program and an original ticket from the 1954 Rose Bowl, in which Ross played as a lineman for victorious Michigan State.

Assemblyman John D. Ceretto and at least 10 other former county legislators were among those gathering to wish Ross well.

“There has never been a chairman as active and involved as Bill Ross,” Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster said. Ross also has been the longtime chairman of the Niagara Power Coalition, which made the Niagara Power Project relicensing deal with the New York Power Authority, and served on the board of the state Association of Counties, the only Niagara County official ever to do so. He also has served lengthy terms on the Niagara County Community College Board of Trustees and the Niagara Military Affairs Council, which works to protect the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove and Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso presented Ross with a photo album of events he’s attended. “You’ve been a tireless advocate for the people of Niagara County,” Updegrove said. “Bill Ross is a consensus-builder … You’ve earned the respect of legislators in this body. You’ve been a patient leader and a mentor.”

Virtuoso said, “There isn’t a legislator who can match Bill Ross for the attention he gives to his district.”

Also Tuesday, the Legislature held a public hearing on a local law to ban the sales of cosmetic products containing microbeads, but the vote won’t come until next Tuesday. The lead sponsor, Legislator Jason A. Zona, D-Niagara Falls, predicted passage. “It doesn’t look like there’s going to be any issues,” he said.

The only speaker at the hearing was Brian Smith, associate executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. He said eight states and six New York counties, including Erie County, already have banned microbeads, which are too small to be filtered by sewage treatment plants.

“They act as tiny toxic sponges, accumulating the toxic chemicals in the water,” Smith said. He said when eaten by fish, the toxic beads make their way up the food chain “and end up on our dinner plates.”

He said a state ban has passed the Assembly and is co-sponsored by 37 of the 63 state senators, but the Senate’s Republican leadership is blocking a vote. “We cannot allow Albany dysfunction to get in the way of protecting Niagara County’s water,” Smith said.

No one spoke at a public hearing on the 2016 county budget, which also will come up for a vote next week. The $339.1 million spending plan raises the tax levy by 1.77 percent, but reduces the countywide average tax rate by 3.7 percent. Spending is to rise $2.46 million, or 0.73 percent.