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In Niagara Falls, no progress on automated parking meters, health plan cuts

NIAGARA FALLS – The City Council was unable to make any progress on two issues that have come up previously – automated parking meters and health benefits for future Council members.

In a 4-to-1 vote, the City Council rejected a $355,190 plan for automated parking meters downtown, despite more than a decade of attempting to put a new parking meter plan in place for the city. Council member Kristen Grandinetti was the only member to vote to go forward with the plan.

Residents clapped and cheered loudly when the item was defeated.

Council members, along with a number of residents who spoke out against it, faulted Mayor Paul A. Dyster and his administration for not bringing more details to the public about how a parking plan would be implemented and staffed.

Councilman Charles Walker said, “I am in support of having meters downtown, there’s no question on that, but what is the exact cost? Who will be managing those meters? We don’t have that as part of the resolution tonight.”

Council Chairman Andrew Touma concurred, saying, “It’s unfortunate that we don’t have the costs in hand. That should have been taken care of so there were no questions.”

Dyster told the Council they would “be leaving money on the table” by not having a parking system in place and said the first step was to purchase the equipment. When he was pressed, he said the total cost for staffing would be $87,360, but said the issues of staffing and maintenance were “independent of the technology.”

The contractor Ber-National had proposed to install automated pay stations in the downtown tourist district. Casino funds would have been used to pay for the meter machines that would be installed in lots on First Street at Buffalo Avenue and on Third Street at Rainbow Boulevard.

Another matter that came up for a second go-round before the Council was the issue of cutting health care costs for all future City Council members, by ending an up-to-$10,000 cash payment to “opt out” from health care.

The Council tabled the issue.

Touma said this proposal may cost more in the long run and the members agreed to continue to study the issue.

In January, new Councilman Kenny Tompkins proposed a plan to cut all health care benefits to Council members elected after 2016. He voted in favor of ending all health care, even as he admitted he would be using the plan for his wife’s care due to unforeseen circumstances. The proposal to end health care passed by a narrow 3-to-2 margin, but ultimately ended in defeat when Mayor Paul A. Dyster vetoed their action, meaning the board needed a supermajority of 4 votes to override the veto. In another 3-to-2 vote, the action to end health care for Council members failed in a re-vote on Feb. 8.