NIAGARA FALLS – They’ve been greeting visitors to downtown for a couple of months now.
Slowly, they’ve been disappearing, but not as fast as many people would like.
Tall weeds – sometimes as high as three feet – sprout from the medians on John Daly Boulevard and Niagara Street. For visitors heading into downtown Niagara Falls, especially those on their way to Seneca Niagara Casino, they’re hard to miss.
City Council Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian said city lawmakers have been receiving phone calls from residents who were concerned about the appearance of those medians.
The city has started paying overtime to employees in the Department of Public Works to work during the night to pull the weeds along John Daly Boulevard, David L. Kinney, director of public works, told the City Council last week.
Kinney’s crew of four employees who were assigned downtown have not even started on the Niagara Street median. He also said he no seasonal workers to help out.
“This year, we had no extras downtown,” Kinney told lawmakers.
Seneca Gaming also has agreed to help out, with employees in its operations team as well as employee volunteers slated to help beautify the area, the corporation said.
The Niagara Beautification Commission is volunteering to maintain the traffic circle on Rainbow Boulevard and First Street.
The median work had previously been funded by the city’s share of slot machine revenue from the casino, Mayor Paul A. Dyster said.
Those funds stopped arriving to the city after the spring of 2010, a dispute finally resolved last month when a deal between the state and the Seneca Nation of Indians was reached.
Because of that situation, the city was left in a big cash crunch and unable to pay for things it had before, like professional maintenance of the medians.
“When the casino revenues were held up, it was impossible to justify,” Dyster said.
Last year, the city received $15,000 from the Seneca Gaming Corp. and $5,000 from the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. to have the medians maintained. The city hired a contractor to do the work.
This year, no such money was available.
The city had approached Seneca Gaming, asking it if it would take over maintenance responsibilities just for this year.
Kinney said he initially thought Seneca Gaming had agreed, but instead he said their help will happen on Saturdays.
Dyster characterized the situation as city officials believing the Gaming Corp. was open to considering it, but the city hadn’t heard from Seneca Gaming for some time.
The mayor said he called Seneca Gaming and was told it was not able to take over all of the maintenance.
Dyster said he sees the current situation as the two entities sharing the work.
“City officials have requested our assistance, and we are pleased to support this initiative,” Seneca Gaming said in a written statement.
Kinney said it costs about $400 per night for overtime.
The city’s Community Development Department has supplied $2,500 in grant funding to help with the effort.
Kinney said he will continue to spend from his budget line for downtown maintenance, which he believes should allow his crews to at least start the work on the Niagara Street medians.
He said he may have to ask the mayor to ask the Council for additional funding.
Dyster said the city is also trying to reduce the area it needs to maintain by using bricks as cover for the medians and adding potted plants.