LOCKPORT – A Democratic proposal to seek new bids for space to store Niagara County’s voting machines failed in committee last week, but even Republican members hinted that the issue would resurface early in 2014.
The county rents space in a former mattress factory in Newfane, owned by Lockport commercial developer David L. Ulrich, for $7,200 a month.
There it stores all the new electronic ballot readers that it has purchased in recent years, as well as all the old lever machines and the used paper ballots from recent elections.
Ulrich is a frequent contributor to GOP candidates, leading Democrats to allege that the contract is a favor to him.
County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said the terms of the contract call for it to renew automatically every Aug. 1 unless one of the sides gives notice at least 120 days before that.
Legislature Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, acknowledged that the resolution calling for a new request for proposals, or RFP, is too late for this year. But he said he’ll reintroduce his measure early in the new year “just to see if we can get it cheaper. It’s a good practice, too. … Jan. 1; it’ll come up again.”
“It should be entertained at the appropriate time,” said Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport. “There’s no opposition to going out for an RFP, at least that I’m aware of.”
Ulrich was unhappy to hear that. “We will be looking for a new tenant, and this will most likely end up costing them a lot more money,” he said in an email to The Buffalo News.
The developer also sent a statement that read:
“They can obviously do whatever they want but it does send a strong message that after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to accommodate their needs, and further diminishing the value of my property by donating to them for free the land to build their communications tower, and even providing free parking to county employees at buildings they lease from someone else, that they feel the need to try and wipe out these past good deeds. We try very hard to be a great landlord and to go above and beyond to provide great value and it is very discouraging to me.”
The communications tower he mentioned is part of the county’s new emergency radio system.
“At this point I think, it’s premature, especially if we’re looking into other options,” said Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda.
County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said the county is looking for other suitable space that it already owns, such as the records storage building that it is vacating on Davison Road in Lockport. The records are to be hauled to Ulrich’s Newfane building.
The Legislature voted last October to lease 28,800 square feet of space for records in the Transit Road building for five years for a total of $640,800.
Glatz said that the final results aren’t in but that it seems the Lockport space may not be large enough for all the machines. “We don’t have anything else,” he said, “and there would have to be some electrical modifications.”