Council Chambers

Tonawanda, New York

August 4, 2009

 

A Regular Meeting of the Common Council

 

Present:  Council President Zeisz

Present Councilmembers:  Perkins, Waterhouse, Kossow, Davis

 

Pledge of Allegiance led by Council President Zeisz

 

Prayer led by Council President Zeisz

 

MAYOR’S PUBLIC HEARING

“Exemption of Capital Improvements to Residential Buildings”

 

Mayor Pilozzi –  Back in April, April 11th of 2008 to be exact, I wrote a letter to the Common Council, I will read parts of it.  One of the items discussed was the possibility of applying Section 421-F of New York State Real Property Tax Laws to residential property where assessed value has increased due to alteration or improvement.  One way to improve housing stock is to lessen the affect of the punitive tax system that requires assessed valuation to raise immediately for improvements made.  In effect, it consistently punishes citizens who take care of their property and improve it by raising assessments and taxes on their homes while we are rewarding others who let their properties deteriorate and get assessment reductions.  Our City, through the efforts of our Code Enforcement Officer will continue to keep a watchful eye on those that allow their property to deteriorate and deal with those situations appropriately.  In order to help and act as an incentive to those property owners considering an improvement, I respectfully request your consideration of Section 421-F of the New York State Real Property Tax Law as it allows property tax increases for property improvements to be phased in over an eight year period.  I am including a copy of the statute for your review.  Basically tonight is the Public Hearing relative to that particular legislation.  I am going to read from the Office of Real Property Services some of the requirements basically that must be used by residents.  You are allowed to have a two family home involved with this but nothing more than a two family home.  The construction project must exceed $3,000 and must be the type allowed by the taxing jurisdiction, which is us.  Additions to your property, that sort of thing.  Basically that is the sum and substance of what that is all about.  There is a lot of information here.  I would like to ask Pat Bacon if she would like to make any comments other than what I have already mentioned, please feel free to do so.  Pat is our Assessor and knows this stuff pretty well. 

 

Patricia Bacon, Assessor -  Basically it is a five year exemption.  It would be for Capital Improvement.  Something like an addition to your house, a garage, an in-ground pool, huge deck, something that would increase your property value $3,000 or more but less than $80,000.  It has to be an addition to an existing structure.  It cannot be a new home or anything like that.  Basically the addition cannot be as large as the existing home.  The first year would be 100% exemption of whatever the new assessment would be.  Next year you would get 80%, next year 60%, 40%, 20%, then after five years the full amount would be added to your taxes.  It is not for general maintenance. That is not the idea of this exemption.  It is actually for capital improvement.  I am not in favor of exemptions myself because we have too many now but I think the idea behind this was the fact that the Council or the Mayor felt that people would be more willing to stay in their homes here, especially if they have outgrown their home if there was an improvement they wanted, they would stay in their homes here in Tonawanda rather than move out of the area if they could get some kind of an exemption.  That is up to the Council.  Basically it is a good idea.

 

Council President Zeisz – Ms. Bacon, when I figured it out I think I came up with maybe like $3,400 if you maxed out to the $80,000 that you would actually save on your taxes.  It is not a huge amount of money.

 

Patricia Bacon – It is an incentive.  The thing is people are adding to their property.  We have a number of huge additions being put on properties in this City.  Of course, these people did not get in under this new exemption.  But I think people are improving their properties.  People do want to stay in our community and this is a way of helping them stay in our community.  Especially since we do not have the housing stock for larger families.  We do not have new homes and we don’t have the four bedrooms and two baths that people which larger families are requiring.  If we can keep them in the City, paying taxes, we are all for that. 

 

Mayor Pilozzi – Pat, I think you hit the nail on the head because during these difficult economic times it is hard to find ways that are win win for everybody, the homeowner and the City.  In this case it is a win win.  It raises the quality (inaudible) here in Tonawanda and allows us to be competitors with other communities that surround us.  I think it is a great idea.  As Council President Zeisz mentioned it allows the homeowner to come up with about a $3,400 savings if they spend $80,000.  Are there any questions from the public?

 

Richard Slisz - Does that include siding too?

 

Patricia Bacon – Siding is general maintenance.

 

Richard Slisz – What if you wanted to enclose your patio, like the ones we have that are facing the river?  Some of us want to enclose them.

 

Patricia Bacon – It might.

 

Richard Slisz – Wouldn’t it be a “yes” or “no”.

 

Patricia Bacon – I don’t know, I would have to see what the amount would be.

 

Richard Slisz – It would cost $3,000 to $10,000, that is for sure.  So would that qualify?

 

Patricia Bacon – It probably would.

 

David McCormick, 613 Niagara Street – What if you already did the work on your house?  Would you get anything?

 

Mayor Pilozzi – It is too late.

 

Patricia Bacon – It is going forward.

 

Mayor Pilozzi – If there is nothing, I declare this hearing closed.  

 

COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE MAYOR

 

A letter from The Alliance Municipal Insurance Alliance, dated July 13, 2009, regarding recommendations for sound risk control practices.

 

A letter from Ernest J. Miles, 37 Dexter Street, dated July 2009, regarding various issues and concerns he has about taxes.

 

A letter to John G. Miskey III, 15 Tussing Lane, dated July 30, 2009, appointing him to the Planning and Zoning Board, term to expire December 31, 2012.

 

A letter to the Common Council, dated August 3, 2009, regarding his request to put a new sidewalk ordinance in place.

 

A letter to the Common Council, dated August 3, 2009, clarifying his position on City Hall business hours and security.

 

A letter from Time Warner Cable, dated July 29, 2009, regarding services.

 

A letter to Thomas Balk, 33 Loretta Street, dated August 3, 2009, appointing him to the Civil Service Commission, derm to expire May 31, 2014.

 

A letter from Ronald C. Anderson, 30 Zimmerman Blvd., Buffalo, dated August 4, 2009, expressing his interest in purchasing from the City of Tonawanda, a parcel of City owned property at 54 East Niagara Street.

            Ordered filed

 

COMMUNICATION FROM CITY OFFICIALS AND CORRESPONDENCE

 

The following monthly reports were received by the City Clerk:

            July monthly report of the Building Inspector

            July minutes of the Traffic and Safety Advisory Board

            July minutes of the Board of Appeals

                 Referred to the Committee of the Whole

                        Ordered filed

 

COMMENTS BY THE PUBLIC ON RESOLUTIONS

 

Richard Slisz, 216 Niagara Shore Drive – I noticed here that you have appointments to the Civil Service Commission and the Planning and Zoning Board.  When they apply for these positions do you require that applications be signed and taken.

 

Mayor Pilozzi – What I require is a letter from them that I put it in the file.

 

Richard Slisz – Then there is no application made by that individual about his experience?

 

Mayor Pilozzi – No, not really.

 

Richard Slisz – Do they get paid?

 

Mayor Pilozzi – Yes they do.

 

Richard Slisz – Don’t you have to have an application for every person that is employed?

 

Council President Zeisz – Once they are brought on.

 

Richard Slisz – So when they are brought on they come on with no sign of experience it is O.K.?  In other words they do not have to present a resume to the Mayor or if it goes to the Mayor nobody gets to see it.  Or any explanation that they have any experience in that field that they are applying to. 

 

Mayor Pilozzi – Basically when I look at somebody’s request for consideration I usually talk to them ahead of time and try and find out if they have some credentials.  Not in every case in writing, no.

 

Richard Slisz – Is it in writing?

 

Mayor Pilozzi – Not in every case, no.  If I know the individual and I know what his or her background is.

 

Richard Slisz – Don’t you think it would be nice to look at a resume to see if they are qualified or have some knowledge of the job they are applying for?

 

Mayor Pilozzi – I could say that, yes?

 

Richard Slisz – Then I would suggest that the Council at least take some resumes from people who are applying for positions.  Not after the fact either.  Not after they are appointed but before they are appointed.  There is a reason for this.  Under the FOIL we asked for this for the applications for the people who are serving on the Assessment Review Board.  We were told there were no applications and there were no resumes.  There is no information on these people as to whether they are qualified to serve.  We were told in writing that there was nothing on the record that these people are qualified.  I think it is something that the body should consider. 

 

MOTIONS AND RESOLUTIONS

 

153.     By the Council                                                  seconded by the Council

            Resolved, that permission be granted to the residents of Glenwood Avenue to hold a block party on Saturday, August 8, 2009 and be it further

            Resolved, that ingress and egress be provided for local traffic and emergency vehicles.

           

Ayes:  Perkins, Waterhouse, Kossow, Davis, Zeisz

Nays:  None

                                                Resolution declared adopted

 

154.     By the Council                                                  seconded by the Council

            Resolved, that permission be granted to the residents of Milton Street, from Delaware to Dexter, to hold a block party on Saturday, August 29, 2009 from 2:00 PM  to 11:00 PM and be it further

            Resolved, that ingress and egress be provided for local traffic and emergency vehicles.

           

Ayes:  Perkins, Waterhouse, Kossow, Davis, Zeisz

Nays:  None

                                                Resolution declared adopted

 

155.     By the Council                                                  seconded by the Council

Whereas the City of Tonawanda has previously entered into a five-year agreement with the New York State Unified Court System for Court Cleaning and Minor Repairs and,

            Whereas, the five-year agreement requires an annual renewal to specify actual expenses to be incurred during the State’s fiscal year.

            Now, Therefore be it Resolved, that Mayor Ronald J. Pilozzi be authorized to enter into a renewal agreement with the New York State Unified Court System for the State’s reimbursement to the City in the amount of $35,555.00 for actual maintenance and operation expenses that have been or will be incurred by the City in support of the Court facilities in Tonawanda City Hall during New York State’s 2009-2010 fiscal year, which encompasses the period from April 1, 2009 through March 31, 2010, and

            Be it Further Resolved that a copy of said renewal agreement for reimbursement will be on file in the Office of the City Clerk.

 

            Fiscal Impact: Revenue from NYS:   $35,555.00

 

Ayes:  Perkins, Waterhouse, Kossow, Davis, Zeisz

Nays:  None

                                                Resolution declared adopted

           

156.     By Councilmember Davis                            seconded by Councilmember Waterhouse

            Whereas, a Local Law entitled “Exemption of Capital Improvements to Residential Buildings”, was enacted by a resolution of this body on July 21, 2009, and

            Whereas, Mayor Ronald J. Pilozzi has this evening held a public hearing concerning said legislation;

            Now, therefore be it resolved, that should the Mayor approve said legislation as is required by law, the City Clerk is directed to notify New York Secretary of State of its enactment and approval.

 

Councilmember Davis – I am happy to sponsor this resolution that is on the agenda tonight.  I don’t think it is any secret that some of the neighborhoods in our City have suffered from an overabundance of blight and this is one way that we as a City can invest in our community to try and take care of the blight and some of the problems that come along with it.  Five years ago my wife and I were living on Harriet Street and we were looking throughout the whole City trying to find a place to live that would be large enough for our seven kids.  There was no place here in the City so we looked in places like Wheatfield, Amherst, Orchard Park, North Tonawanda, for homes that were accommodating for a family of our size.  Luckily one came up on Brookside Terrace for us to buy.  This is one of the main reasons I wanted to see this legislation move forward because I do believe there are people who leave Tonawanda for other municipalities because we do not have the homes with the immensities that other communities have.   To try and keep these families here in the City of Tonawanda is a benefit to us all.  I take issue with Mr. Pilozzi saying that he had informed all of us about this with a letter to the Council dated April 7th.  On an e-mail that I sent to Pat Bacon on March 28th of 2008, I clearly indicate to her that this is a project I have been looking at and researching and did not know that there was this legislation out there and asked Ms. Bacon for more information concerning this legislation.  Subsequent to the Mayor’s letter to the Council on April 7th, I followed up with a letter with a copy of this e-mail addressing the Mayor’s concern and that I appreciated his concern and that we, as a Council, would be open to any suggestions or ideas that he would have to move this legislation forward.  But, flat out, this legislation has been brought to you because of members of this Council.

 

Mayor Pilozzi – Just so you know and that is the general public included, my letter is dated April 11th.  Mr. Davis has a letter dated April 18th, seven days later and he pretty much stated that he wasn’t aware that this legislation was there and that is why I mentioned what I did.  Here’s my letter, and there is a letter of appreciation to me to set the record straight.  Both of them are right here.

 

Councilmember Davis – Mr. President, I would also like to comment that attached to that letter I also sent a copy of the e-mail which I sent to Pat and specifically told her in there about the real estate housing law that I was questioning her about so clearly approximately two weeks before the Mayor sent out his letter I had already gotten the ball rolling.  That’s all.  I am not going to sit up here and play a cat and mouse game so thank you Mr. President.

 

Ayes:  Perkins, Waterhouse, Kossow, Davis, Zeisz

Nays:  None

                                                Resolution declared adopted

 

157.     By the Council                                                  seconded by the Council

                Resolved, that Article III, Section 62-158, Schedule VIII of the Traffic Ordinance  be amended to read as follows:

                Resolved, the ordinance for the stop signs located on State Street at the railroad crossing, adopted March 17, 1992, is hereby rescinded.

 

Ayes:  Perkins, Waterhouse, Kossow, Davis, Zeisz

Nays:  None

                                                Resolution declared adopted

 

158.     By the Council                                                  seconded by the Council

            Resolved, that Article III, Section 62-153, Schedule III of the Traffic Ordiance be amended to read as follows:

            Resolved, the ordinance for the school speed limit in the described school area for Highland School, adopted March 17, 1992, is hereby rescinded.

           

Ayes:  Perkins, Waterhouse, Kossow, Davis, Zeisz

Nays:  None

                                                Resolution declared adopted

 

COMMENTS FROM THE PUBLIC AFTER RESOLUTIONS

 

Robert Derner,  286 Niagara Shore Drive –  It is a good idea you had with lowering the assessments for people that remodel their homes.  If you lower costs they will come.  Yesterday in the Buffalo paper under real estate actions ending June 19th there were 38 homes in Niagara County and 116 in Erie County that closed under $100,000.  Those are all first time buyers mostly and that $8,000 credit stimulates the economy.  It was probably the same the week before but in those two weeks there was nothing that closed in the City of Tonawanda.  So, you can guess the reason why.  What I want to talk to you about is last week when I spoke asking that someone from the Council would maybe save the City and the homeowners some money that they would meet with the homeowners that were taking an action against the City on their assessments at Riveredge.  Over fifty people in one area that are upset and Mr. Kossow got up at the end and he talked about the revaluation in twenty years.  That isn’t the problem I was asking about.  I was asking about somebody from the Council meeting with the homeowners and possibly the Assessor and see if they could come to a common ground.  We believe the assessment was flawed and maybe by discussing things, things would get resolved.  I have talked to my neighbors at different times and some of them don’t even know who Mr. Kossow is.  The point is I’ll bet you everybody up on Hackett Drive or Wadsworth Court knows who Mr. Davis is because he gets involved and is trying to help them with their landfill problem.  People at Riveredge have an alderman who disappeared.  We don’t know who you are.  People don’t even know where you are at.  You should be over there.  If I were an alderman and there were fifty people on one street who were dissatisfied I would talk to them and find out what the problem is and try and get it resolved before paying lawyers on both sides and getting everybody mad at each other and resolve it.

 

Council President Zeisz – Mr. Derner, I am not speaking for Mr. Kossow but I would be more than happy to sit with the residents and discuss the situation.  Here is the problem.  There is pending litigation out there and based on advice that we have at this point in time I am basically precluded from doing something like that because of the pending litigation.  If it were completely different and you didn’t have the litigation involved in this, I would be more than happy to talk with people.  Yell at me, whatever, get their thoughts out and I would express my thoughts, that is not the issue.  But I am sure, I have had this discussion with the City Attorney, I am not in the position to do that now.   Unless somehow there is an agreement that that is how it would be negotiated out.

 

Robert Derner – In government the closest elected official to the people are the Councilmen, then County, State up to the President.  The Council should be able to speak to the people in their community at any time.  What difference does it make if there is litigation.  If you just talk to them and find out what their concerns are and what it is about.  I don’t see why you can’t talk to somebody.

 

Council President Zeisz – I understand what you are saying. The problem is people could or might say things that could be used against them in Court.  Both ways.  That is all I am saying.  The City Attorney is smiling back there because he knows what I am saying. 

 

Robert Derner – When I first started building I could go and shake hands with somebody and build them a house.  Now days you got every lawyer telling you you can’t do this and you can’t do that.  What we should do is get rid of the lawyers and maybe we would all get along better. 

 

Richard Slisz – I am not going to get into reval because you will get yours at the end.  There is a sign posted at the new bakery on Seymour at the beginning of the bicycle path.  Well, there are three signs posted.  There is a little sign that is fading away that says 7mph.  I guess that refers to bicycles right?  That can’t be cars.  Although City cars go over there and they travel quite fast, even the scooter that they have.  My reason for bringing this up is that I have almost been hit by bicyclists going through.  They go through, more than 7mph, 10 maybe 15.  My neighbor told me just the other day that she and her husband almost got knock off walking by bicyclists coming through.  I think what we ought to do is put more signs there.  That is the only sign all the way down to the City park and put the 7mph signs up so bikers know.  They shouldn’t be going more than 7mph.  Especially when they go double and triple that speed.  They come through sometimes by the 100’s as we all know.  So I think we need additional signs and do away with the signs that aren’t even on our property.  I suppose it is on the bakery’s property.  It is on the left hand side as you enter on Main and Sawyer. 

 

Holly Batt, 783 Fletcher Street – First of all, I would like to clarify that the City Hall union & non-union employees want to make this perfectly clear that this is not a summer hour issue as the Mayor wants everyone to believe, but this is a security issue.  The Mayor’s Office recently took a pole of nearby municipalities regarding the security issue and informed the Common Council that the town and city halls do not have a security guard on duty on a daily basis at or near the Clerk/Treasurer’s office.  I took it upon myself to personally contact these municipalities and thought you might be interested in hearing the facts that I came up with:

 

Town of Amherst

Court & police are in a separate building from town hall – so they do not have Court, Drug Court or probation in their Town Hall.  They also do not have a DMV office in their Town Hall.

 

Town of Cheektowaga

Court & police in separate building from town hall – No Courts or probation in the Town Hall and they also do not have a DMV office in their Town Hall either.

 

Village of Kenmore

Court in same building – no security – except for Tuesday nights when their court is in session – Court officer there for court only.  They do not have a Drug Court, Probation or a DMV there either.

 

Town of Tonawanda

Court & police are in a separate building from the town hall, and they also do not have Courts, Probation or DMV in their town hall.

 

Town of Hamburg

Court is in the same building as town hall.  They are applying for a grant for security cameras.  They do have Drug court and probation, but do not have police security.

They also do not have a DMV office in their building.

 

Town of Orchard Park

Court  & police are in same building as town hall with no security.  They do not have drug court, but they do have probation in the basement of the building.  They also do not have a DMV office in their building.

 

City of North Tonawanda

Their City hall & Court are in the same building, they keep the same hours with an officer at the court only and a panic button at front desk of the Clerk/Treasurer’s office.  They do have drug court & probation with an officer on duty.  And they also do not have a DMV office.

 

Also, another fact you might be interested in is that come January 1st 2010, we will also be housing a Mental Health Court at our City Hall year round.

 

Steven Sommers, 66 Coshway Place – I would like to ask that the letter be read regarding the security.

 

Council President Zeisz – We generally don’t make it a habit of reading letters, they are available for public review.  Anybody can have them.

 

Steven Sommers – So I can get a hold of them.

 

Council President Zeisz – Yes.  Of course, I say generally we don’t read letters but that being said there is a letter I am going to read because it is a letter I take an issue with primarily because of the fact that under most cases pretty much the entire time I have sat up here with Ron Pilozzi as Mayor he would pick up the phone and call me or he would talk to me while I was here so with this letter I am obviously just assuming it is election season otherwise I wouldn’t have been getting this letter.  It starts out “This administration worked extremely hard to manage the financial well being of our city, which culminated in an improved bond rating from Standard and Poors from BAAA to A+ in an extremely difficult credit market environment.”  It talks about some of the main contributions, tax stabilization fund, refinancing debt, establishing a meaningful capital plan, reducing the cost of employee health care, using a new consultant and a reduction in liability insurance through a new provider.  Now, I take issue with a couple of parts of this.  Number one, he talks about administration.  Everything in that first paragraph, without the Common Council, none of that happens.  To take a step back, I sat here for eighteen years with Joe Hogenkamp as the City Treasurer.  As an elected City Treasurer.  I can tell you, point of fact, that one of the reasons we have the financial controls is because of Mr. Hogenkamp.  His insight, his help for the Council to provide us with the proper information to make the correct decisions, that is first and foremost what has lead us to have the rating we have.  I think it is great that we have an A+ rating and we have done things in the City and I am not saying that the Mayor’s Office has not put a lot of effort into this, what I am saying is it took the Mayor’s Office and the Common Council to do this stuff.  But, this is not the first time that I have heard this and I would be the last to tell anybody in this room that we don’t have issues in this City.  One of the main issues that we have, we have a community that expects certain services.  They expect to have certain government services, police services, fire services, recreational services, but unfortunately those services come with a big price.  There are a couple of people in this room that know exactly what I am talking about, that big price.  We have cut positions, we have consolidated departments, we have eliminated an assortment of different things but the reality is we are not a well off community and we struggle every year to get by.  So whatever our bond rating might be we still have issues with taxes.  Everybody knows that.  It is not a mystery to anyone.  Whether your house is $100,000 or $300,000.  In a lot of respects it is relative.  The people in the $100,000 houses have the income to match up in most cases.  Not every case.  So there is that part of it.  But, the point of the letter was to go on and say that we have saved money with our new carrier on our insurance.  Absolutely true.  The Council saved it.  Not the Mayor’s Office.  We could have gone with the old liability insurance and not saved anything it was the Council who did it through our consultant Brian Baty.  Finally it refers to a section that talked about us having a sidewalk ordinance, some kind of a specific sidewalk ordinance to address corrections to sidewalks.  That is being dealt with but in this letter it basically says that the Council has not done anything for the last two months.   I take serious issue with that because it is not the Mayor’s issue.  It is the Council’s issue to deal with the sidewalk ordinance.  It will be dealt with.

 

Richard Slisz – Is the letter signed.

 

Council President Zeisz – by the Mayor and if anyone wants to read the whole letter it is with the packet from tonight.

 

COMMENTS FROM THE COUNCILMEMBERS AFTER RESOLUTIONS

 

Councilmember Perkins – I have nothing further, thank you.

 

Councilmember Waterhouse – Nothing at this time Mr. President.

 

Councilmember Kossow – I have nothing this evening, thank you Mr. President.

 

Councilmember Davis – Thank you Mr. President.  When the Sidewalk Ordinance first came up the one and only issue I had with it is we are going to start to make residents pay for part of their sidewalk like many other communities.  Why should residents who have to pay for half of their sidewalk pay because the City got behind on fixing the sidewalks  throughout the City.  The sidewalk in front of their home could have been deteriorating for ten years.  But now all of a sudden they are going to have to foot half of the bill.  But I am sure all of us up here are going to work to try to do something to realize the savings that will be implemented once we improve the Sidewalk Ordinance.  That is the only problem I have, that is requiring residents in this time and economic crisis that we are in to start paying for or get a bill in the mail saying you have three weeks to come up with the money or we are going to slap it on your tax bill.  Some of our residents cannot afford this.  Those are issues that we are going to have to get by and address but like I said in one way shape or form we will come to an agreement on a Sidewalk Ordinance that will realize tax savings from our liability insurance.  I would like to give kudos to Jeff Schultz, our City Electrician.  Anyone that knows Jeff knows how much he works his butt off.  Last Wednesday I got home from work at 4:00 P.M. and Carrie Oliver, who runs the Tonawanda Soccer Club, calls me up saying there is suppose to be an all-star game at Ives Pond at 7:30 P.M. and they have no lights.  So, I get on the phone with Jeff, I get on the phone with National Grid and through the hard work of Jeff Schultz and National Grid showing up to be able to turn the power on at the last second the all-star game went on.  They were able to play both games because of his hard work so I would like to just thank Mr. Schultz for what he did that night and for what he does for the City.  Mr. Hopkins had a nice article in today’s paper about the skate park.  I think everybody up here knows about the issues surrounding it and knows it cannot stay where it is at.  It is a residential area and if you took a drive down Francis Street you would notice that people take great pride in how their homes are kept up.  They pay a decent amount of taxes and they should be able to open up their windows and sit out on their patios without hearing a George Carlin skit from 8:00 A.M. until 8:00 P.M.  One way or another it will be moved.  I would be hard pressed to say that that skate park would be there this time next year.  There are places to put it that won’t impact residents as much but yet will afford our youth the opportunity to use it and continue to give them something to do.  Thank you Mr. President.

 

Council President Zeisz – I just would like to make a couple of more comments on the taxes.  All of the years that I have sat here one of the biggest things we struggle with is how to deal with people’s taxes.  One of the big problems we have is that when you go door to door, you see people out, what service do you not want that you have today?  Do you want to not have garbage pickup?  Do you not want to have a Fire Department?  Everybody wants the services we have.  Reality is those services all cost money.  Like I said, as far as consolidating and eliminating positions, there has to be at least forty less positions in the last twelve years.  At least forty.  The problem is the pension.  We’ll take the pension bill.  I am just guessing on time because I cannot remember exactly.  But about maybe four or five years ago our pension bill was less than $200,000.  It jumped to $900,000.  Next year’s pension bill is going up $400,000 in one year.  These numbers are astronomical for us to overcome.  We saved $60,000 on the liability insurance and it isn’t even a dent.  The Mayor’s Office with the new consultant has worked to make changes with the new health insurance and more change is coming.  It is going up 15% over $2,500,000 or it is like $2,800,000.  It doesn’t even make a dent in it.  Some of the costs are just so out of control that it is almost impossible for us.  We would literally have to wipe out a department to make up for some of these expenses that have come our way.  Mind you, some communities have bonded when the last pension bill jumped so high.  Some communities bonded that payment because they did not want to pay it straight out of the budget.  So they had even more cost added on to their budget line.  I am not making excuses I am just telling you how it is.  There are certain realities we face.  We are a poor community.  That is why we are looking for any opportunities we can to bring more money into the City.  Whether that is with new houses or what have you.  Anything we can possibly do to bring in more money because there is not much left to cut.  We got the budget tonight from the Mayor’s Office that we will start working on.  We are hacking the budget to death because there is not enough to go around.  The thing is even the changes that have been made with the health insurance I think it has been since 2003 every new employee hired doesn’t get life-time health but the problem is it takes a long time to get to where you realize that.  There are still quite a few of retirees.  There are still a lot of people out there getting health insurance.  I guess I will just get off my soapbox now or I could go on forever.

 

Mayor Pilozzi -  Thank you President Zeisz.  To start on a lighter note, Alice Mudrowsky celebrated her 100th birthday yesterday.  From the look of tonight’s Common Council meeting I might not make it to next year but we will leave that at that.  The letter I wrote having to do with insurance, liability insurance, if you grab a copy of it you will see that on September 17, 2008, was the first memo I sent out and it had to do with sidewalk ordinances.  Again on June 2nd of this year I requested some consideration for that particular item only because I was concerned that going the way we have been going for a number of years that we were going to get in trouble with our new carrier.  If you look at the letter than came on July 13th it expresses concerns from the insurance carrier.  My discussions with Brian Baty recently with Joe and Sam were that for all intents and purposes most of our residents have liability insurance that covers sidewalks.  My intent was to get him in here to at least start some dialogue so we didn’t lose the $60,000 savings based on our lack of action.  Because there are other items on there that are going to take action too.  It has nothing to do with anything other than talking about the issue and possibly doing absolutely nothing except making sure that the liability our residents already pay for is in place.  I don’t know that for certain but in the telephone conversation that we had it was expressed that just about every insurance policy that is written you already pay for as a resident so if you talk to our City Engineer and our City Attorney they will tell you that we get plenty of law suits and court actions over this particular issue.  So I was hoping to start at some level that would at least include that discussion.  The intention was that and that alone.  Again it started in September of ’08 not this month.  I think it is a little disingenuous unless you read the whole letter that the intent of that letter was strictly for that purpose and that purpose only.  The budget was a very very difficult budget to come up with.  I would like to publicly thank Joe Hogenkamp and Sam Iraci who spent numerous hours on that particular budget and as the Council President has already mentioned there are some huge increases on things we do not control.  First and foremost is the State pension.  The cost to the City of Tonawanda went up 46% overnight, one year, 46%.  If you look at health care, as Council President Zeisz mentioned already, it went up approximately 15%, at least that is what we put in the budget to help deal with that issue.  It was a real challenge and some of the things that we did do and some of the things that we did do during the year, with Council approval, I agree, but basically things that we did to alleviate some of the insurance costs to look at some other issues in terms of overall costs to the City helped us get to a point where it came in at 2.49%.  If you stop to think about it basically just the pension cost alone would have resulted in probably somewhere around a –1% in our tax increase instead of 2.49% increase.  These are things that we do not control for all intents and purposes but again I would like to thank Joe Hogenkamp and Sam Iraci for their effort.  Thank you.

 

Robert Derner – Mayor, may I respond to what you just said.

 

Council President Zeisz – Mr. Derner, the Public Comment portion of the meeting is technically over.  Let me finish, I am going to let you speak.  I run the meeting.  This is a Council meeting.  It is not the Mayor’s meeting, it is my meeting.  You are more than welcome to ask your question.  Please come to the mic.

 

Robert Derner – I would just like to know if you get these increase that you say the State imposes on you, what happens if you just don’t pay them. 

 

Council President Zeisz – It’s funny you should say that because I’ve said the same thing. 

 

Robert Derner – Other cities must have the same problem.  Why not form a coalition of other cities that have the same problem and all of you not pay it and force the State to rescind their mandates. 

 

Council President Zeisz – Just so you know Mr. Derner, I have said on a few occasions that we should just not pay them and I was advised that you just can’t do that.  I agree.  I think that some of the things that they bring down on us, we are talking 46% for a little city like Tonawanda.  Can you imagine what these bills are going to be like for Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse?  They are going to get hammered and the only reason some of these towns are surviving is because they are using stimulus money that is going to be gone in two years. 

 

Robert Derner – If the homeowner gets a bill that they can’t pay they don’t pay it because they don’t have the money or they don’t buy something because they haven’t got the money.  I mean the same thing with the City.  You haven’t got the money you just don’t buy it.

 

Mayor Pilozzi – Our constitutional tax limit isn’t at that point yet. 

 

Councilmember Perkins – Mr. Derner, I think that is why we have streets in the shape they are in is because we have been paying these pension bills and these health insurance increases, it is like you chose between buying food and paying cable TV, that is basically where we are at with this.  The pension is the food, we almost have no choice but to pay for that so we don’t repair streets and various sidewalks. 

 

Robert Derner – I think that if the cities got together and had a uniform front that the State and these people in New York City tell everybody what we, up here in WNY have to do.  There has to be a point where you just have to say enough is enough. 

 

Council President Zeisz – Thank you Mr. Derner.  I did have a thought and completely forgot what it was so I guess I will just leave it at that.  The only thing I did want to comment on was yes, we did get correspondence from the Mayor’s Office about sidewalks last year however that was separate, this issue with the insurance carrier.  We just signed a new insurance about three months ago.  I have had contact with Brian Baty and it is something that is being addressed.  One of the big issues with sidewalks is liability obviously.  But, the problem is if you are liable for the sidewalk who do you think has to fix the sidewalk if you are the one liable for it?  That is the problem.  You can’t have it both ways.  You can’t make the homeowner liable and fix it for him.  It has to be either one way or the other.  You are either liable or you are not liable for it and that is one of the issues we are dealing with.  Thank you for coming, have a great night and drive home safely.  God Bless.

 

ADJOURNMENT

 

159.     By Councilmember Kossow                                               seconded by Councilmember Perkins

            Resolved, that this Common Council adjourn until August 18, 2009.  

 

Ayes:  Perkins, Waterhouse, Kossow, Davis, Zeisz

Nays:  None

                                                Resolution declared adopted

 

 

 

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