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Niagara County hires grant writing, lobbying firms

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature last week hired a new grant writing firm and renewed a contract with a lobbying firm.

Both contracts drew fire from the Democratic minority, but were approved on party-line 10-4 votes by the Republican majority.

Clifton Communications, a new company in Hamburg, was hired to prepare grant applications for the county on a three-year contract for a fee of $6,000 a month, or $72,000 a year.

Clifton was founded by Bridget Corcoran, who used to work for the county’s last grant writing company, Four Points Communications. After she left in 2013, the county saw a decline in the quality of Four Points’ work, with the last straw being the county’s rejection for a $340,000 federal grant to buy body cameras for police across the county.

One of Four Points’ members was the legal secretary for former county GOP chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek. The Democrats complained that Four Points’ price was boosted from $48,000 to $72,000 last year without a Legislature vote.

But County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz dug up a budget amendment the Legislature approved in December 2012 for 2013. It added $24,000 to his office’s budget, and Glatz said that was for Four Points, and the subsequent years’ payments were simply renewals. The 2012 resolution made no mention of grant writing or Four Points, simply using a budgetary code number for the line that was to be increased.

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso said that this time, the county should have returned to J. O’Connell & Associates, an Erie County firm that worked with the county in the past. The O’Connell firm bid $66,000 this time, but promised to write only 10 grant applications, as opposed to Clifton’s 12.

Legislator Jason A. Zona, D-Niagara Falls, said the county should hire “the best in the state for almost the same price,” but the GOP members disagreed and voted for Clifton.

Four Points brought in $1.2 million in grants for the county in 2012, Corcoran’s last full year with the firm, Glatz said. The receipts fell to $790,000 in 2013, $600,000 in 2014 and $380,000 in 2015.

The Legislature also approved a new $60,000, one-year contract with the lobbying firm of Masiello Martucci Calabrese & Associates to lobby on behalf of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and homeland security funding. The county first hired the firm in 2011. It’s led in part by former Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello and former Deputy Erie County Executive Carl J. Calabrese, who now lives in Wheatfield.

Zona said, “This money would be better served going to NIMAC,” the Niagara Military Affairs Council, a group of civilians and officials which has worked for two decades on the air base’s behalf.

The Legislature also approved a reorganization of County Jail management, mandated by the state Commission of Corrections. Seven lieutenant positions were created, effective March 27, while seven other positions were abolished: three captains, three sergeants and one corrections officer.