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Good news on funding for City of Niagara Falls

NIAGARA FALLS – The City of Niagara Falls’ tax foreclosure auction Monday was praised as “very successful” – raising $1.36 million in the sale of 220 properties.

“Everything sold and everybody closed,” City Controller Maria Brown told the City Council on Monday. “I couldn’t believe it. Even the back bidders were in line waiting to see if the bidders still wanted the property. It was an extremely successful day.”

Brown noted about 300 bidders showed up for the auction in the Quality Inn.

The controller said the auction serves to recoup back taxes. By state law, the school district is made whole on the back taxes, with any remaining money split between the city and Niagara County.

Brown said the top bid for a business was $40,000 for a property on Pine Avenue. The highest for a residential property was 3508 Westwood Drive, which went for $30,500.

“Many of these properties people didn’t even want. This puts these properties back on the tax rolls,” Brown added.

In other Council matters:

Seth Piccirillo, the director of the Department of Community Development, presented a draft budget report on U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding. The draft plan will be submitted in January and a final allocation will be announced by HUD in the spring.

Piccirillo said the draft plan was created through a “participatory budget process” involving residents making suggestions about uses for the funding during four neighborhood workshops in June and online forms.

The lion’s share of the $2.75 million grant is a $2.1 million community development block grant.

Also, $317,000 would go for home renovations and $199,000 for homelessness prevention. Piccirillo said the money is leveraged to matching funding, for a total of $6.4 million.

Piccirillo said computer mapping is being employed to track expenditures and analyze trends.

“Everyone is within walking distance from a community development project,” he said.

“A lot of times we hear that we don’t do anything in LaSalle, but the highest concentrations of our closing-cost grants are from 66th to 78th streets,” said Piccirillo, adding that the grants covering closing costs have doubled from 2012 to 2014.

The Community Development director said through Neighborhood Housing Services the city needs to do a better job of reaching out to Highland Avenue and Center City, to owners of multifamily buildings who might be interested in renovations.

The No. 1 goal, he added, is home ownership.

To that end, he said, plans are in the works for a housing auction, with a date still to be determined.

“Most of the work we do is with home renovations and closing-cost grants, so absolutely home ownership is our No. 1 priority,” Piccirillo said.

• Though the Council did not vote on sharing the city’s assessor with the City of Lockport, Council Chairman Andrew P. Touma raised reservations about the proposal to share James Bird for $30,000.

“Shared services should benefit both municipalities and I’m not sure this benefits us as much as it benefits Lockport,” Touma said.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster pointed out that Lockport officials believe the opposite.

“Maybe that is the nature of shared services,” Dyster said.

Bird, who the city currently shares with Wilson and Somerset, said he will finish his role with Somerset at the end of the year and added that Lockport would present a similar workload as Somerset, because there would be clerks available to assist him and the drive is closer. Under an eight-year agreement, he continues working with Wilson for one more year. That agreement provides office equipment and a car, which Bird said he drives between jobs.

Touma suggested that instead of paying $30,000, Lockport consider sharing its city engineer with Niagara Falls on a part-time basis.

• The City Council agreed to a $15,000 settlement with former City Council Secretary Kevin J. Ormsby, who was replaced by a younger employee. Ormsby filed an age discrimination lawsuit in 2014. The Council approved a cash settlement instead of going to court.