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State board offers City of Lockport up to $637,500 in grants on restructuring of services

LOCKPORT – The city could receive as much as $637,500 in grants if it follows through on recommendations to consider changes in its operations, a state board decided this week.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said Thursday that the Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments voted in favor of the grants Monday.

However, in order to receive the funds, the city has work to do.

The largest chunk is $250,000 for the Water Department. The state’s report says the city can obtain that money only if it buys water from the City of North Tonawanda and shuts down its own water-filtration plant, but McCaffrey said she called Albany and was told that it’s not true.

“It’s not conditional,” the mayor said. The money would be used to stabilize the city’s water rates.

“They are fully aware we’re looking at the process of buying water from the City of North Tonawanda,” McCaffrey said. That’s a process that was studied, at state expense, several years ago, but no deal has been made and no price has been set, although the Financial Restructuring Board report presumes North Tonawanda water would be cheaper than a supply from the Niagara County Water District.

The city has been obtaining its drinking water through a 13-mile pipeline from the Niagara River at North Tonawanda for more than 100 years. The raw river water is free, but the water is not treated until it arrives at the city plant on Summit Street in Lockport.

McCaffrey said that as long as the city keeps looking into a deal for buying treated water from North Tonawanda, it can have the grant. “I believe the $250,000 will come to our water fund either this year or in 2017,” she said.

The analysis of a water purchase “is going to be very detailed, and it’s going to go out several years,” McCaffrey said.

The state board also offered Lockport $200,000 for property development, including the demolition of an abandoned four-unit condominium on Park Lane Circle and redevelopment of the former Dussault Foundry and Kohl Motorcycle sites. All three lots are owned by the city. However, there are strings attached.

McCaffrey said that if the city wants that $200,000, it must either shift its police dispatching to the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office or make a deal with the county to use its financial management computer software, which is a different brand than the city’s.

No strings are attached to a $77,500 grant to buy a second set of turnout gear for all city firefighters. The state would reimburse the city for a purchase McCaffrey said would be made this summer. The extra gear would be given to each firefighter to keep in his vehicle. In the event of a multi-alarm fire, it would speed up response because extra men could go directly to the fire, except for one or two to drive a fire truck.

The city also will collect $50,000 to pay for restructuring its public works departments. The city has used a variety of organizational charts over the years for streets, parks, building maintenance, engineering, water and sewer, which at the moment are almost completely decentralized. The state board considers that wasteful.

The board offered the city $60,000 if it shared assessors with Niagara Falls, but the Common Council rescinded that deal earlier this year in favor of Lockport having its own full-time assessor.