LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature is urging the Buffalo Bills to consider downtown Niagara Falls if the football team is seeking a site for a new stadium.
The resolution the Legislature passed Tuesday by an 8-4 vote notes that Niagara Falls has large expanses of vacant property close to the international border, which would make it handier for Canadian fans than is Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park.
However, the Bills have shown no official interest in any new stadium, regardless of location.
The state and Erie County have agreed to invest $200 million in upgrades at the Ralph during the Bills’ new lease, which binds the team to the Orchard Park site until 2020.
“This is about preventing our team from Western New York from leaving for Toronto,” said Legislator Jason A. Zona, D-Niagara Falls, the lead sponsor. “This is just a symbolic resolution that we don’t want to lose our football team.”
But some opponents were concerned that the resolution might commit Niagara County to building a stadium for the Bills. Zona denied it, and the resolution was amended to delete a specific reference to “building an NFL stadium in downtown Niagara Falls.”
“Of course, we can’t afford to build a stadium. We’re not Erie County,” said Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls.
Opposition came from four members of the GOP-controlled majority caucus: Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove and Anthony J. Nemi of Lockport, John Syracuse of Newfane and Michael A. Hill of Hartland.
“I think Erie County has done a lot of hard work on the lease,” Syracuse said.
Three other Republicans – W. Keith McNall of Lockport, David E. Godfrey of Wilson and Paul B. Wojtaszek of North Tonawanda – were absent.
In other matters, the Legislature passed the 2013-14 Niagara County Community College budget, which includes a 2.6 percent tuition increase, equivalent to $96 for a full-time, full-year student.
The $49 million budget does not seek an increase in the county’s contribution to the college, which will be $8.87 million for the seventh consecutive year.
Also Tuesday, the Legislature appointed Michael A. Ross of the City of Lockport as District 4 coroner for the rest of the year.
Ross, co-owner of two funeral homes, was recommended by a selection committee last week.
Ross, a Republican, succeeds Richard W. Rutland of Newfane, who resigned last month. Ross is expected to run for a full term in this fall’s election.
On another matter, the Legislature voted to send a request to Albany for an enabling act that would allow the county to continue charging an 8 percent sales tax for two more years.
The current authorization expires Nov. 30. By state law, Niagara County must use all the proceeds of one extra percentage point on its share of the Medicaid program.
The Legislature also agreed to create a second welfare fraud investigator position in the Sheriff’s Office.
A resolution from the Democrats, seeking to study whether to require inspections of apartments before they are rented to welfare clients, was sent to committee for study. Also sent to committee was a Democratic resolution to seek proposals for voting machine storage.