Mar 28


Town boards behaving badly

In Cheektowaga and Hamburg, Republicans are playing hardball with projects that used to enjoy nonpartisan support.
News and analysis by Geoff Kelly, Investigative Post's political reporter

Last week we reported that Cheektowaga’s Republican legislators had blocked routine borrowing to fund road and sewer repairs in the town this summer. 

This week they did it again.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, the board’s three Democrats tried to get three bond resolutions approved — $2.25 million to repave and repair town roads, $5.5 million to improve drainage on those roadways, and $500,000 for sewer repairs. 

The board’s three Republicans voted no and the bond resolutions failed.

In a statement Wednesday, Town Supervisor Brian Nowak, a Democrat, said the borrowing was meant to pay for “bridge repair, sewer replacement, a partial road reconstruction, and resurfacing 14.8 miles of road in the town including 54 residential streets.”

According to Nowak, the town will run out of money for road work in July, “unless an alternative solution to bonding is approved by the town board.”

Such resolutions used to be routine: The town has borrowed money for road repaving and repair 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.

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Nowak said the sewer repairs covered by the proposed bonds comprise work mandated by a consent decree between the town and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“To this point, our town has been a state leader in meeting the requirements of the consent order,” Nowak said in his statement.

Opposition to the bonding was led by Board Member Mike Jasinski, a Republican, who narrowly lost the supervisor’s job to Nowak in last fall’s general election. Shortly thereafter, at a Veterans Day event, he told Nowak he intended to make the new supervisor’s job miserable. Since Nowak took office in January, numerous items before the board, including those related to the delivery of basic services, have been stalemated by a 3-to-3 vote.

The board should have a seventh member. Nowak vacated his seat when he became supervisor in January. Republicans have also stalemated efforts to fill that seat, which likely will remain vacant until the November election.

 Tuesday’s board meeting grew contentious toward the end, after the defeat of the bond resolutions. Jasinski accused Nowak and other Democrats of lacking the work ethic to find affordable solutions to the town’s problems. 

Jasinski made this accusation while teleconferencing into the meeting from an undisclosed location. 

Cheektowaga Board Memeber Mike Jasinski. Photo provided.

When Nowak objected to the insult, Jasinski replied, “I’m calling it for what it is, Mr. Nowak. It’s not insulting. It’s calling it for what it is.”

Cheektowaga is not the only town where partisan politics have resulted in gridlock.

Hamburg Republicans — who won a 3-to-2 majority on the town board in November’s elections — are holding up borrowing for projects in their town, too. 

On Monday night the three Republicans voted down a resolution that would have okayed $7.5 million in new debt to pay for renovations to the town’s ice rink. The board also rejected another $7 million in borrowing for a new youth recreation and senior center, and a new public safety building to house the town’s police department.

The proposed renovations to the ice arena included a new HVAC system and chillers, new boards and glass, a new snack bar, expanded locker room facilities, and a laundry list of other improvements. 

A better and bigger ice rink has been a holy grail for the town’s hockey parents for more than a decade. Previous plans have called for improvements to the existing town rink or replacing it altogether. There have been several plans to construct new rinks elsewhere in the town, led by public-private partnerships featuring ex-Sabres players and big developers. 

Always there are proposals, always they are receding into the horizon

Meanwhile, the town’s rink, located on a former Nike missile base, has fallen into disrepair. 

Board Member Frank Bogulski, a Republican, led the opposition to the borrowing. Like Jasinski in Cheektowaga, his opposition to the Democratic town supervisor often turns to insults. He repeatedly referred to Hoak as a “dictator” during board sessions earlier this month, according to The Hamburg Sun

Hamburg Board Member Frank Bogulski, center. Photo provided.

An attorney who was first elected in November, Bogulski is considered a likely challenger to Town Supervisor Randy Hoak for supervisor next year.

At Monday’s meeting, Bogulski submitted a resolution calling for the formation of “a committee for the purpose of exploring public-private partnerships to construct a dual ice arena facility and corresponding fieldhouse and track complex.” 

Bogulski’s resolution named four possible sites for such a complex, all of which have figured into various bygone plans for a new ice arena. It tasked the committee with identifying private funding for whatever course it recommended.

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The resolution as originally submitted would have made Bogulski chair of the new committee. The board amended the resolution to make a youth hockey coach the chair.

Dozens turned out to urge the board to okay the bond resolution, many in response to a letter sent out by the board of a youth hockey organization, summoning players and their parents to the meeting. Many repeated the concerns listed in the letter: If the rink isn’t renovated, it could lose business and revenue to other facilities in the region. If its mechanical systems fail, the hockey programs that do use it could go out of business themselves.

“The new Town Board is pushing back on finalizing the whole project and only wants to do the mechanical updates,” the board of Hamburg Hawks Hockey wrote. 

“One of our Town Council members wants to explore a new public-private multi-use facility to include rinks; a gymnasium; field house and Senior and Youth Recreational Center. While that would be unbelievable, we have already been through that process three times and nothing ever materialized!”

Such a project, the board members wrote, “is likely 10 years and $50 million dollars away … something that whoever uses the arena cannot afford to wait for.”

Investigative Post

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