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LOCKPORT – Increased sharing of public works equipment and manpower will be the initial focus of a new shared services effort launched at a news conference before Tuesday’s Niagara County Legislature meeting.

Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, will head a committee of legislators and town supervisors that will study the concept.

He said highway superintendents and business people will be consulted for ideas.

“Cost containment and cost cutting will be our touchstone,” Syracuse said.

The county and town highway departments already share each other’s paving equipment during the summer, and in the winter, towns handle snowplowing on 173 miles of county roads. The county plows only 110 miles of roads itself, said Michael F. Tracy, county deputy public works commissioner for highways.

Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, who just stepped down as Public Works Committee chairman, said he can’t envision a time in which the county would not plow any of its own roads.

“You’ve got to study it and see if it’s possible,” Burmaster said. “It’s a very complex subject.”

The county has had shared services committees before with limited results, but Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, said the difference this time is “necessity.”

He said the county has had success with shared services, such as taking over North Tonawanda’s police and fire dispatching.

“Change is hard,” said Wilson Supervisor Joseph M. Jastrzemski. “Six years ago in the Town of Wilson, we entered into shared services with the City of Niagara Falls in our assessor’s office … It saved the taxpayers of Wilson $400,000 so far.”

On another topic, resolutions asking the state to direct welfare recipients’ shelter allowances directly to landlords were referred to the Community Services Committee, whose next meeting has yet to be scheduled.

The resolutions were introduced by the Legislature’s Democratic majority at the request of Niagara Falls landlords who claim they are often stiffed on rent by welfare recipients.

Elizabeth White, a Niagara Falls attorney who assists welfare clients, spoke out against the proposals.

“The only remedy a tenant has if the conditions are substandard is to withhold the rent,” she said.

“If that is taken away from them, it’s going to take away their ability to advocate for themselves.”

Landlord Lou Rizzo of the Falls said, “Investors travel the world in search of properties where they can make a profit. … When they come here, within three to five years, they’re in bankruptcy. It’s what I call the ‘X Factor’: the quality of tenants.”

“When tenants do not pay their rents,” said I. Kenneth Hamilton of the Falls, “landlords can’t make improvements. If you can’t make improvements, your properties go down. If your properties go down, your tax base goes down.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com