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Niagara Falls’ assessor to be shared with City of Lockport

LOCKPORT – The Common Council will vote Wednesday on a two-year contract with the City of Niagara Falls to use the services of the Cataract City’s assessor, James R. Bird, effective Jan. 1.

The city will pay Niagara Falls $30,000 a year for Bird’s services, Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said. Lockport will not have to pay any salary or benefits for Bird.

Asked whether Bird will see added salary, McCaffrey said, “Whatever arrangement is determined is between him and the City of Niagara Falls.”

Bird said he expects the deal to be on the Niagara Falls City Council’s Dec. 28 agenda.

Handling other municipalities’ assessments is nothing new for Bird, 56, who is also providing services to the towns of Wilson and Somerset, although the Somerset deal expires at the end of the year.

Asked whether taking on the large City of Lockport tax roll will be too much work, Bird said, “I’ll be able to handle it.”

McCaffrey said the expected arrangement is for Bird to be in Lockport City Hall every Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“That would be the time he would be available to spend with the public,” she said. Bird also would be committed to four hours a week of “field work” in Lockport.

McCaffrey said this deal is cheaper than if Lockport were to hire its own full-time assessor, which she estimated would cost $80,000 to $90,000 a year in salary and benefits.

She said that both cities have applied for aid from the state Fiscal Restructuring Board, which promotes shared services between municipalities.

“This is definitely something New York State has been encouraging communities in fiscal distress to do more of,” McCaffrey said.

Lockport has not been able to hold a full-time assessor very long in recent years, and has turned to a variety of stopgap measures.

Lockport paid Michael S. Hartman, the Royalton and Hartland assessor, $10,000 for four months’ work earlier this year. Lena D. Villella, the city’s real property appraiser, was the temporary assessor for the second half of last year, and in the first half of 2014, the city used the services of Harry E. Williams, an employee of Girasole-Penale Appraisal of Niagara Falls.

Also next week, the Common Council will vote to ratify a new four-year contract at the Lockport Housing Authority, granting members of its management association 2 percent annual raises, retroactive to April 2014. The Housing Authority is a federal agency, but Washington insists on local approval even though the city has no other role in managing the housing.