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LOCKPORT – Landlords who have welfare clients as tenants will receive their rent money directly from the county – unless the landlord happens to be a county elected official.

The Niagara County Legislature voted, 14-1, Tuesday to begin making payments of welfare clients’ shelter allowances, effective June 1, to the landlords.

The measure, sponsored by Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, and Legislator Jason A. Zona, D-Niagara Falls, takes advantage of a state social services regulation that allows payments of the shelter allowance to landlords who rent to clients of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, said the measure should be amended to bar such payments to any landlord who is also a county employee or elected official.

Virtuoso, a landlord himself, albeit not one with welfare tenants, accepted that. “You don’t have to worry about me,” he said.

“We think it’s important to avoid any appearance of impropriety,” Updegrove said.

“We’re only talking about the legislators. … We’re only talking about the people who are making the decision, and that’s us.”

He said he didn’t know of any other legislators who are landlords.

At first, the amendment also would have barred county employees from receiving the direct payments, such as William C. Rutland, president of the county’s blue-collar union and also a landlord, who spoke in favor of the direct-payment resolution during Tuesday’s public comment period.

But after a caucus of the Republican majority, the provision to bar county employees from receiving the payments was scrapped.

Landlords who rent to clients of New York’s Safety Net welfare program already receive direct payments.

During the comment period, Lou Rizzo, of Niagara Falls, said, “These monies are confiscated from taxpayers for a specific purpose, and we demand they be used for that purpose.”

But Robert Cunningham, of Niagara Falls, called the resolution “a form of bigotry. … You take away a person’s dignity because they’re too poor or undistinguished to pay their rent.”

In another matter Tuesday, a resolution from the three Niagara Falls Democrats regarding the Buffalo Bills was sent to the Economic Development Committee for discussion May 8.

The measure would express support for the notion of building a new stadium for the Bills in downtown Niagara Falls as a means of keeping the football franchise in Western New York.

Also Tuesday, the Legislature awarded a $115,988 contract to General Security of Rochester for security improvements at the Philo J. Brooks Building in Lockport, where County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz has his office.

The building also houses the County Treasurer’s Office, the Budget Office, Real Property Services and the Public Works Department headquarters.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com