3/30/2010

inLighten Says No

Posted by MJ


LUSJ and The Buffalo News reported.

It was pry to be expected. Possibly 100 well paying jobs wandered into our area (DT!), sniffed around and then kept on looking.

The real shame here is the rarity of the opportunity. These types of potential jobs do not wander into the city on a regular basis looking to make a home. If this is indeed the end, the most important thing to find out is the details of why. Was there a bigger welcome wagon elsewhere? Were they really leaning to a suburban type site even though they mentioned otherwise?

Moving forward do we sit and wait for some other place to wander in? What do the "Waterbourne Real Estate Advisors of Getzville" actually do? Are they supplied a package by the city listing every single available benefit offered by the city, county and state? Some older articles from the Buffalo News (article 1, article 2) point out some reasons companies leave and others stay in the area.

“It was like night and day,” Nathaniel said.
The offers of help rolled in. County legislators came forth. Economic developers pointed them to local architects and engineers and help with the permitting process. Officials persuaded a local paper company to sell Science First some unused land for 25 percent of the market rate. They were offered up to $8,300 for every job created under a State of Florida program. A low-interest loan of $300,000 was put on the table. And the absence of a state income tax saves the family about $100,000 a year, the Bells estimated.
How welcoming and easy to work with are we? Not from our perspective but from the perspective of the potential (and existing) businesses that we interact with. How do we market ourselves? Are we marketing single pieces of property or the city (and area) as a whole?

Canal street has facing the locks going for it. That's about it. It is isolated from all the activity on the other side of the canal. At one end is an empty lot (possible new ticket booth for Lockport Cave Tours) and at the other end is pedestrian activity killing city hall. The only visible store fronts are at opposite ends of the block and the largest building has no storefronts. An Excalibur-like gazebo (never to be pulled from it's site!) will make sure the street never has a continuous streetscape to pull pedestrians down it. I feel inLighten was the brightest hope at this time.

For now we will have vendors and musicians there this summer. They will be a welcome addition to DT. But why try to pull people over to empty buildings instead of over to actual businesses on Main St where they can actually spend money and density can be created? One can see effort all around. Is it pointing in the right direction and working together to some type of goal?

We live in a world where electricity, the internet and the automobile pretty much let any person or business settle anywhere. The rules have changed. Are we ready to be successful in this competitive environment?

3/29/2010

Lockport Caves Moving

Posted by MJ

Proposed Site

Lockport Caves recieved a variance last month to construct a ticket booth (building) on the vacant property north of the canal along Gooding St (zoned light industrial). If it moves ahead they will no longer being leasing the current space at Old City Hall. The new location will offer them direct access to the canal and caves (via the staircase), parking for buses, room for people to gather in during poor weather and possibly some historical Holley Manufacturing items.

With the approaved variance they will move into the design/planning phase.

3/29/2010

Trees, Trees, Trees

Posted by MJ

Locust St, Lockport NY

4th Ward Alderman Andy Chapman is looking to promote tree planting.

Hoffman says he’s all for the city’s re-entry to the program, if for no other reason than it could be another avenue to securing saplings. The forestry department budget includes $1,000 a year for new trees; that buys about eight trees on average, not nearly enough to replace what’s lost every year.


Since January 2006, according to forestry statistics, city workers have removed 626 diseased or dead trees from public property, mostly from the grassy areas between sidewalks and streets. In the same period, they planted about 100 new trees, purchased mostly from a $10,000 bequest to the city by a former resident.

I've been thinking of writing on the topic for a while but never got around to taking one of the pictures I wanted for the post.

Re-Tree WNY was formed after the October Storm to help replace all of the trees that were lost. So far they have planted over 10,000 trees. When I called they said that Lockport was not part of it. AS part of this process this is something the city should look into.

$1,000 for 8 trees is not the biggest abng for our buck, nor is it going to help keep our tree canopy intact.

Trees are free, or very cheap if planned ahead. The city can by real small saplings for around $10 per tree. Find a piece of city property where a city tree farm can be created to nurture (water) them until they are ready to plant. One could envision it as a volunteer or student effort. I mentioned it here about a year ago when a similar effort was started in Buffalo.

A nice effort by Chapman. I'll revist trees later in the week.

UPDATE 03/29/10:
Buffalo News Reported.

3/26/2010

Signs Signs Signs

Posted by MJ

2=5
Hertel Ave. Buffalo NY

The topic of sign laws came up again in the comments of another blog post. Along with some new signs showing up DT (like the MarJon one) I thought I would revisit the topic.

The lead in picture shows the North Park Theater block on Hertel in Buffalo.  The signs are easy to read and non-obstructed. Colors, logos, etc really don't matter since no sign exceeds 3'x3' thus inhibiting it from dominating the streetscape in any way. Each sign has its own accent lights to avoid lighting up the rest of the street. People walking down the side walk or driving by at 30 mph can make out the sign which is facing them instead of facing across the street. The building architecture is left unscathed by massive signs placed flush with it. We can see some examples of these signs already in DT Lockport. The Hunt, Taboo, etc signs in Ulrich City Center and various businesses on the first block of Main. The smaller sizes keep sign costs down while leveling the playing field with other nearby businesses.

Of an opposite nature are signs like the Indian Grill (are they trying to advertise to any legally blind residing in the Urban Park towers?) The new MarJon sign is a similar sheet of back lit plastic. If this is what the overhaul of the sign law did for us, how have we advanced? I agree the first try was too overbearing but I'm not sure what we have now. (One can go to the actual code from the links to the left) A simple code (can even copy the one for the Elmwood Strip in Buffalo) would suffice to keep creativity open while not allowing signs to overtake our environment. That should be the ultimate goal of the law.

Even new signs like Aaron's with the free standing pole out front have obviously gone unaddressed. There is no highway 1/4 mile away  with 55 mph traffic to advertise to. If any sign should be illegal in the city it is these freestanding pole signs (Friendly's, Walgreen's, Rite-Aid, Goodyear, etc). Customers traveling 30 mph in the city makes them a needless blight. Even the town is ahead of the game in discussing to change their zoning laws to ban them and have all signs at ground level in a nice structure with landscaping. Let's beat them too it.


3/22/2010

We Have Little Say?

Posted by MJ

Buffalo News reported on the school districts response to residents' displeasure over the recommended budget.

Two school closings, extracurricular program cuts, a 40-position reduction and a nearly 12 percent tax levy increase. Superintendent Terry Ann Carbone’s money-saving plan is unpopular with city school district residents — but the School Board isn’t going to change it.

And if voters think they can force changes, they’d better think again....
What a productive way to engage the tax base. I think they are missing the point. The displeasure is not just over this years budget but also the ones that have led up to it.
Lockport was hit with a proposed $3.9 million cut in promised state aid. Another $4 million in inflationary costs leaves the district with a $7.9 million budget hole. The budget — along with its unpopular school closings and tax levy increase— will go to voters May 18, but they have less input than they may think.

If they vote the budget down, the result would be more cuts or a higher tax levy.
“The public thinks if they vote down the budget, we can’t close schools, and that’s not true,” board Vice President John A. Linderman said at a meeting earlier this month. “They really only have a say in a small piece of the budget.”
When the public rejects a school budget, the district is forced to go to a contingency plan based on the consumer price index. This year, the CPI is zero, and the district would be forced to scale back to a zero percent spending increase.
“Last year, our budget was $77 million,” Sandell said. “We are presenting a $77.4 million budget this year. If the public votes no, we have to find a way to make up $400,000. That would be through cuts, a tax levy increase or a combination.”
If only we knew this several years ago we could have voted every budget down and forced them to keep a zero spending growth budget (as opposed to a zero growth tax rate.) The state funding increases and temporary stimulus funding could have went to temporarily ease our tax burden instead of letting the budget grow in an economic period that it should not have been growing in.

Lesson learned. Would systematically voting down budgets (forcing minimal gorwth in spending) year after year force the district to make the structural changes needed as contracts (from top to bottom) come up over the next several years?

I realize it's only zero beacuse the CPI is zero this year. I wonder how the budget compares to the CPI over the past decade or so?

UPDATE: 3/25/10
LUSJ article on the topic.

3/21/2010

J. Smith Budget Letter

Posted by MJ

Buffalo News has a Letter to the Editor from 2nd Ward Alderman Jack Smith in today's paper.

(Editor’s note: the letter above also was presented to Lockport School Board members)

As a representative of the people in the Lockport School District you have an obligation to listen to the people who elected each of you. It is at critical times like these when you will need to do what must be done, and should have been done a long time ago.

Cut the fat.
I would like to be perfectly clear, personnel must be cut out of the system, starting at the top with administrative positions, all the way down to teaching assistants.
Closing one school building and repurposing another is nowhere near enough. Labor is the largest percentage in any budget and it must be cut in yours.
You may also want to rethink your position in regards to who is to blame for the situation we are all in now. We are all to blame, the superintendent, you the board, the teachers’ union, and me the taxpayer, for letting these irresponsible budgets get passed year after year.
I can’t believe that any self-respecting elected board member, let alone the president of the School Board, would attempt to put the blame on Albany alone!

“If it wasn’t for the people in Albany, we wouldn’t have to do what we’re doing right now,” board President Marietta L. Schrader told parents during a meeting in Lockport last month. “We are at their mercy. It would behoove every single one of you to direct your passion toward contacting our elected officials,” as quoted in The Buffalo News.
Let us all be adults and admit to our failures, apologize for them and take the necessary corrective measures.
An 11-plus percent increase in the school tax rate is not a corrective measure, it is an insult and an injury to the taxpayers of this district.
If you really want to “do it for the kids,” be an example, take ownership of this fiscal mismanagement and do what needs to be done. Make the tough decisions, the right decisions.

Jack L. Smith Jr., 2nd Ward alderman

City of Lockport

3/19/2010

Tougher ‘nuisance’ law

Posted by MJ

LUSJ reported:

The Common Council will soon have a look at a proposed “public nuisance abatement law” that would demand landowners keep a sharper eye on happenings on their property.
Second Ward Alderman Jack Smith is pushing for Council exploration of a law directing the police chief to assign “points” to properties where certain offenses have been committed and, when enough points are accumulated, order properties shut down for a term.
Public nuisance abatement laws are in effect now in cities including Albany, Troy and York, Pa. They target properties involved with drug use/dealing, gambling, prostitution, underage drinking, firearms, child abuse, possession of stolen property and various forms of fraud.
The law says these types of illegal activities are a bane on the community and, thus, public nuisances.
And the way it works, a houseguest or tenant doesn’t have to be convicted of a crime for points to be lodged against property....
It sounds like an interesting approach though its success will be in the details. I'm not certain creating a vacant structure for a year though is the proper penalty. Some other monetary fine would seem to be more applicable, especially is the revenue from the system was directly fed back into the area where the fine originated. Be it trees, new sidewalks, etc. People resond best to violations like this, parking, etc when they see it as a another step in the viability of the area and not just a money grab by the locality.

There are both good landloards and good tenants who get the short end of their "bad" counterparts living around them. Good tenants don't want to stick around once they can afford to move and even good landlords come to the tough spot of not having a great pool of tenants looking to come to the area to chose from. Maybe this can be another step in reversing that trend. A period of stabilty is needed to turn around the disinvestment.

3/12/2010

Library Budget Vote

Posted by MJ



The Lockport Library budget vote is coming up April 7th.

Library Budget Vote
2010/2011 proposed budget
April 7, 2010 ~ 10:00 a.m.—9:00 p.m.
Community Meeting Room
Public Information Meeting
March 18, 2010 ~ 7:00 p.m.
Community Meeting Room
You must be a registered voter in the Lockport City School District to vote.
2010/2011 Budget Information for Voters
Tax levy increase from 2009/2010: $34,211
Total request from tax levy: $1,278,258
Total budget from all sources: $1,540,266
Total budget increase from all sources: $54,077
(See budget detail.)
The proposed increase is $34,211 (2.75%) from property tax support over 2009/2010 appropriation.
The proposed increase, if approved by voters, will be applied to increased operating costs, maintaining library collections and services, computer access, library programs, access to collections, and services via our Web site.
How is the money used?
To sustain library operations and provide services.
In 2009:
229,741 people visited the library.
30,371 people have library cards.
436,859 items were borrowed.
21,529 reference questions were answered.
11,265 children, teens and families attended 361 library programs.
1,423 adults attended 44 programs.
Library services include:
  • A broad collection of materials including a variety of formats: books, large print books, CDs, DVDs, audio books, magazines, and downloadable audio books, as well as personalized service to help you find information.
  • Access to the Internet and online databases.
  • 24/7 reference services, allowing patrons to submit questions electronically 24 hours per day.
  • A community meeting room that serves over 80 organizations at no cost.
  • A wireless connection for people with laptops.
  • A community gathering place to read, think, create and communicate.
  • A selection of programs for children, teens, and adults
 Take a small survey here

3/11/2010

LSD Teacher's Contract, etc.

Posted by MJ

Came across See Through NY.

Contracts, expenditures, payrolls, and other information on state, city, school districts etc.

Here is the Lockport School District Teacher's Contract: Link

One can also search city employee salaries, etc. I've had no time to really look through any of this information yet but thought I would share.

3/10/2010

Dewitt Clinton to Vacate

Posted by MJ

I just arrived back from the Lockport school district meeting. Proposed was a 0.52% increase in expenditures and an 11% tax levy increase to cover the loss of state funding this year.

John Pound will be "re-purposed" and Dewitt Clinton will be closed. Average class sizes district wide will go to 22 students per class.

In other cuts:
-not filling 6 retirements at the secondary level
-remove school resource officer (though now covered by grant next year)
-reduce staff professional development
-reduce building supply 20%
-eliminate summer school (mention was made that the students will need to be more responsible)
-reduce academic intervention services provided before and after school
-and some others.

The librarians were saved through equipment cuts and some poverty based grants are being sought to supplement their funding. No salary freezes were discussed on any level. Some of the reserve funds will be drawn down (roughly $3M) though some, like the capital reserve, can only be used for certain purposes.

"Living within our means" was the theme from the supervisor. This will most likely not be the last year of budget struggles. What will the future hold for further alignment of our budget?

Although the school nearest me was proposed for the re-purpose, I still feel Dewitt Clinton should have been saved instead. It has the least going for it in terms of reuse and is probably one of the only anchors in that part of town. It was a disservice not having the city involved in this process.

I'll link the official news stories tomorrow morning.

UPDATE 03/11/10
Buffalo News Reported
LUSJ Reported

3/10/2010

School Closure Meeting Tonight.

Posted by MJ

LUSJ reporting:


Tonight’s meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Lockport High School auditorium, 250 Lincoln Ave. The meeting was moved from the district offices on Beattie Avenue, the regular meeting place for the board in anticipation for a large turnout tonight, similar to the past couple of meetings, when supporters of a few schools have shown up — most notably from John Pound and DeWitt Clinton elementary schools.

Last week, district officials said the meeting had been moved to North Park Middle School before announcing the meeting had been moved again.

To help offset the financial hardships Lockport has to face with the 2010-11 budget, the district said last week it would be closing an elementary school and re-purposing another. The move is expected to save about $1.2 million. Carbone said Tuesday she has met with the staffs of the schools that could be affected if the budget picture doesn’t change.
 Not sure if I am going to be able to make it. If anyone else does please post up afterward.

3/04/2010

More School News

Posted by MJ

Both the Buffalo News and the LUSJ have reported an update on the school budget cutting process.

Lockport City Schools will close an elementary school and “re-purpose” another, Superintendent Terry Ann Carbone said Wednesday. The schools are just two of the many cuts the district will have to make in order to create a budget in these economic times, Carbone said. Other cuts include the reduction of 40 positions — including 23 layoffs — districtwide, the elimination of summer school, reductions in materials and supplies, the loss of the Early Start and summer reading programs, as well as after-school programs....
---------------------------------
...Even with $4 million in cuts laid out, the district may need to raise its tax levy by as much as 10 percent to plug a $7.9 million hole. The district faces a $3.9 million cut in state aid as rollover operating costs jump by $4 million....
The big question that remains to be asked and reported on is what exactly makes up the $4 million increase in operating costs? Why can they not be paused like has been done in the private sector to maintain viability? And if the budget is so dire why are they adding a pre-K next year? What are the biggest cost centers? What will have the biggest effect on closing the gap?  Closing the schools is saving a wopping 1.3% of the the 77 million (soon to be 81 million?) budget or 15% of the needed reduction.
This is painful,” Carbone said. “It doesn’t help anybody. But if someone else out in the community has an idea of how to come up with $4 million, I would be glad to entertain any ideas.”...


...The rest of the cuts Carbone recommended Wednesday:
• Of 40 positions minimum that must be eliminated, 14 will be retirements. The rest will come from layoffs, and the figure of 40 will swell as the budget is finalized.
• The district will end its summer school program for all grade levels, requiring students to cover their own costs for BOCES summer programs in Niagara Falls or Medina.
• After-school and academic intervention programs for K through grade 8 and summer reading offerings for all grade levels will be eliminated.
• Materials and supplies will be reduced by 30 percent.
• E-mails sent by the administration to elementary library media specialists indicate those five positions will be cut. Other nonmandated programs, including art and music, may also face cuts.
The School Board may take action on the budget at Wednesday’s meeting. With a large turnout expected, the meeting has been moved to North Park Middle School’s auditorium, where the public portion is scheduled for 7 p. m

Also, word is no meetings yet with the city on plausible reuses though they are expected in the future. The feasibility of reusing the structure should be a factor in the closure though it seems it may not be.

3/01/2010

School Budget Update.

Posted by MJ

Buffalo News reported that the Lockport School District is considering removing dedicated librarians as part of their budget balancing maneuvers.

The effect of a $7.9 million deficit is rippling throughout the Lockport School District, with libraries as a possibility for the next hit.
Administrators e-mailed the district’s certified library media specialists last month, warning that their positions may be eliminated for the next school year.
The five positions are shared by the district’s seven elementary schools to teach computer classes and staff library periods.
If cut, teachers would absorb some librarian duties, while other programming, such as dedicated library periods, could be eliminated. It was not immediately clear whether librarian’s assistants would also be affected...
And still no final decision on which school(s) to close but three are nominated:

...Schrader and Superintendent Terry Ann Carbone have told The Buffalo News that closing candidates include DeWitt Clinton, John E. Pound and Washington Hunt elementary schools. The three are the district’s oldest and most technologically outdated, and they cost the most to maintain....
A typical "good" class size is around 18 students. Districts such as Niagara Falls have 28 students set as the maximum in their union contracts and classes often reach that ceiling. Lockport is right in the average range.

...In Lockport, closing a school has been a discussion for at least a decade, Carbone said. The district’s incoming kindergarten class this year was about 30 students below previous years, the superintendent said. Still, the district had always been able to afford keeping all of its seven elementary schools open and offer lower class sizes. A $7.9 million deficit changes that...

...Most elementary schools throughout Niagara County have about 20 students in an average class. For the 2008-09 school year, according to state records, DeWitt Clinton had 18, while John E. Pound and Washington Hunt had 19 each. The schools that stay open could be affected, too. Roy Kelley Elementary, for instance, has an average class size of 17, which could go up if it absorbs students from a closed school...
As thought, selling a school building would be tough. They are offering up district warehouses as the reuse. Very imaginative though I guess it keeps the structures maintained.

...Although selling the closed school building would be ideal, it’s unlikely the district will find a buyer anytime soon, Carbone said. Instead, the buildings can be repurposed and create space for other district services, such as records management and technology storage. District officials are reviewing budget scenarios and data to make a final determination. The future should look clearer by the board’s next meetings, Wednesday and March 10. A final budget, along with a closure plan, must be approved by April...
I wonder again where the public can easily access the school budget and its cost breakdown. Lack of information makes educated discussion hard to accomplish.