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Niagara County golf course privatization, medical examiner are considered

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature is considering turning the county-owned golf course over to private management and doing away with elected coroners, replacing them with a medical examiner, as in Erie County.

The proposals on Tuesday’s Legislature agenda were referred to committee.

The golf course on Davison Road in Lockport is considered an “enterprise fund,” meaning that it is supposed to pay for itself while receiving no tax money. More than a decade ago, then-County Manager Gregory D. Lewis proposed selling it, but he got no cooperation from the Legislature.

Now, Majority Leader Randy R. Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, is the lead sponsor of a resolution to seek requests for proposals from private golf course management companies. It was sent to the Infrastructure and Facilities Committee.

The golf course hasn’t turned a profit since 2012. The 2015 results aren’t in yet, but Budget Director Daniel P. Huntington said the revenue and expense figures should be close.

“We have an audit that’s going to be reviewed,” County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said.

Public Works Commissioner Kevin P. O’Brien said the golf course has paid back the tobacco bond funding that the Legislature provided to buy golf carts, and is close to paying off the tobacco money that was used for an irrigation system. County Treasurer Kyle R. Andrews said that there also is an outstanding loan of about $140,000 from the county to repair the maintenance shop, which will be paid back over 10 years.

Andrews said deficits are filled from reserves.

“The golf course has its own reserve fund, but certainly the Legislature wants to look into the long-term liquidity of the golf course,” Andrews said.

Bradt emphasized that the county is not proposing to sell the course but that he wants to see whether money can be saved.

“All we’re saying is, we’ve got to take a look at it,” Bradt said.

On the issue of a medical examiner, the four part-time elected coroners each are paid $17,500 a year, but none is able to perform autopsies. The county contracts with the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office for those services, at $1,700 per autopsy, or $1,100 for a partial postmortem examination.

The coroner budget this year is $439,649, including the salaries and body removal and autopsy fees.

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said the same question was studied before. He said, “We didn’t find it cost-feasible six years ago. I doubt it’ll be cost-feasible now.”

The resolution that passed Tuesday authorizes Legislature Chairman W. Keith McNall, R-Lockport, to appoint a special committee to study alternatives to the current structure and to seek contract proposals “from regionally located medical facilities for the purpose of providing an operating theater for said medical examiner should such an office be established.” The committee’s report is due by May 24.