Mar 22


Bad politics, bad roads in Cheektowaga

The paralysis continues, as Republicans on the town board last week blocked routine borrowing for street repaving and other infrastructure work.
News and analysis by Geoff Kelly, Investigative Post's political reporter

This column was adopted from Investigative Post’s weekly “PoliticalPost” newsletter. Subscribe here and get “Political Post” in your inbox every Wednesday morning.

Partisan dysfunction continues on the Cheektowaga Town Board.

Last week the board’s Republicans blocked two resolutions authorizing the town to borrow money to pay for annual road and sewer work. The first bond resolution was for up to $2.25 million to repave and repair town roads; the second was for up to $5.5 million to improve drainage on those roadways.

Such resolutions used to be routine. They still are in most towns and cities. But Cheektowaga is special this year, due to political gridlock on the board. There are three Democrats on the board, including Supervisor Brian Nowak, and three Republicans who seem determined to paralyze Nowak’s administration.

Since Nowak took office in January, numerous items before the board, even those related to the delivery of basic services, have been stalemated by a 3-to-3 vote. In their first meeting of the new year, the board’s Republicans stalled a release of funds to pay the town’s already accrued bills. (Eventually they relented.) They prevented Nowak from hiring a part-time, $20-per-hour assistant for his office, at least in part because Nowak’s preferred candidate for the job is a Democrat who lost her bid for reelection to the town board in November. Other positions have gone unfilled, too.

The Republicans haven’t even allowed the board’s Democrats to fill the town board seat Nowak vacated when he was sworn in as supervisor. Doing so likely would give Democrats four votes on the board, robbing Republicans of their stalemate power. The seat may go unfilled until a special election in November.

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The champion of this governmental paralysis is Republican Mike Jasinski. He narrowly lost the race for supervisor to Nowak last fall, then vowed to make the job difficult for his rival.

“I think we have a spending problem in this town,” Jasinski said during a contentious exchange at last Tuesday’s board meeting, in defense of his opposition to the annual borrowing. “I think we need to get our budget in line.”

Democrat Jerry Kaminski, who is Nowak’s deputy supervisor, warned the board of the consequences of their inaction.

“I don’t want to hear this room full of people when their highways aren’t getting done, their sewers collapse and their basements are getting flooded,” he said. “This is one of the most important things that we ever bond on in the Town of Cheektowaga.”

Cheektowaga budgeted $14.5 million for its highway department this fiscal year. Just over half that covers wages for more than 60 workers, according to Nowak. After all other expenses — vehicle maintenance and fuel, snow removal, debt service on previous roadwork bonds — the  department is left with about $430,000.

Without bonding, that would be all that’s available to pay for roadwork this year, Nowak said in a Facebook Live briefing earlier this week. And most of it already earmarked for other projects.

“Some of that’s for street trees, some of that is for drainage, some of that is for brush and weed clearance,” he said.

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The town had planned to repave 54 streets this year, adding up to nearly 15 miles. Some of the streets on the list haven’t been paved since 2009, according to Nowak.

He pointed to previous years as evidence that borrowing for roadwork has not been controversial in the past. Last year the town board unanimously approved a $1.75 million bond resolution, which was jointly sponsored by a Republican and a Democrat. In 2022, the board approved roadwork bonds worth $1.5 million.

In fact the town has borrowed money to roadwork in all but one of the past 10 budget years. The sum has been as low as $250,000 in 2021 and as high as $3 million in 2017.

The board’s Democrats will try again next week to get the borrowing approved. Nowak was not optimistic any of the three Republicans will change their votes.


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