Solidarity amongst the entire Niagara Falls City Council was in short supply Wednesday. The closest the council came to unity on a substantive issue was the hiring of its new assistant.
Only Councilman Tompkins voted against offering the secretarial position to Mark Diodate, who had worked at a company with the councilman but failed to account for it on his resume. Councilman Voccio was not at the candidate interview and subsequently said he felt confident in his colleagues to make the right decision. Voices critical of hiring Mr. Diodate pointed out his competitors had more actual secretarial experience versus his sales background and they were a better choice because they aren’t politically connected.
Further discord emerged from new councilman Bill Kennedy’s resolution to urge the N.F. Water Board to compensate rate payers for water pressure issues and lack of service. A lawyer for the Water Board, Sean Costello, appeared before the council to state its opposition to the resolution. A fixed pressure or constant supply is not guaranteed by the Water Board and cited other issues that would make implementing such a program “unworkable.” Tompkins said the program was like “dangling a carrot” in front of rate payers because the city has no power to compel the water board into action.
Councilman Kennedy said the water board, however, charges the minimum monthly fee whether or not the water is used. He also said rate payers are looking for some “compassion,” a characterization that Costello also objected to. Newly re-appointed Chairman Andrew Touma said letters of apology and Tim Horton’s gift cards could help assuage — even if just in a small way — some of the bad feelings caused by the growing number of breaks in the city’s crumbling water infrastructure.
Councilman Kennedy said, “I’m going to stand up for the people of Niagara Falls at every turn” and that he wants a protocol for filing a grievance with the water board.
“It’s about customer service and reaching out to the public and being respectful,” Touma said.
Votes on salary and benefit reductions for council members, non-union city employees and the mayor all fell along party lines, with Councilman Kennedy, Ezra Scott Jr. and Touma voting against and Councilman Tompkins and Voccio supporting it.
Another resolution to trim the council’s and mayor’s salary — starting in 2020 — also failed similarly and would have resulted in roughly a $50,000 saving.
“I’m not taking a pay cut because of somebody else’s campaign promise,” Councilman Kennedy said, referring to Councilman Voccio’s plan to reduce the council’s salary by 10 percent as an example of leadership.
One area the council did agree on unanimously was asking the administration to reduce its expenses by five percent, which is a much larger figure than what the council deliberated on Wednesday.
Another area of possible agreement amongst the council is the City’s continuing issue of taxi and livery service regulation. The City currently has no regulations on livery drivers, which is a type of taxi service that cannot pick up fares while on duty. Meanwhile, numerous residents and livery drivers have complained in City Hall the system that determines the number of taxis in the City is unfair and skewed toward the few who hold the coveted “medallions,” which are often sold at many times their value with no benefit to the city administration.
Councilman Voccio — a libertarian who said he dislikes extra layers of regulation — issued a warning Wednesday that might spur the council to act on the issue, which was shelved about four months ago when the city began putting together the 2018 budget.
“We are going to be selling medallions for a penny a piece because of Uber and Lyft and I love it,” said Councilman Voccio.
BY: Joseph Kissel