LOCKPORT – Niagara County is seeking bids for a place to store its voting machines, and in the meantime the current landlord, David L. Ulrich, has doubled the price he is charging the county for that space.
Ulrich said last week he still may make an offer on the machine storage lease, but as of Aug. 1, he will be charging the county $14,400 a month instead of the former $7,200 for the current location.
Since it acquired electronic ballot scanners, the county has placed them in a 28,800-square-foot portion of the former Lockport Mattress Co. factory on Transit Road in Newfane, owned by Ulrich.
In late February, Ulrich gave the county notice that he was canceling the automatic lease renewal on Aug. 1. Either side had to give 120 days’ notice to do so.
The County Legislature considered seeking new bids last summer after its Democratic minority charged that the no-bid contract was a gift to Ulrich, a frequent large contributor to Republican candidates.
Since 2000, according to state Board of Elections records, Ulrich has donated $7,394 to individual Republican or GOP-endorsed candidates for offices in Niagara County.
In the same time period, Ulrich also has donated $27,500 to the Niagara County Republican Committee and $45,950 to State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, as well as making numerous contributions to Erie County and statewide GOP candidates.
In June 2013, Ulrich responded to the move to seek new bids by telling The Buffalo News in an email, “We will be looking for a new tenant, and this will most likely end up costing them a lot more money.”
However, no such tenant has signed up, although Ulrich said there are still “possibilities.” But for now, Ulrich said last week that he has informed the county that it can keep the machines where they are – for twice the price.
“We did write them and say that because they’re a holdover tenant, they can go on at $6 a (square) foot,” Ulrich said.
That’s twice the $3 a square foot Ulrich was charging under the lease about to expire, which is $7,200 a month or $86,400 a year. County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said the county has accepted that offer, while new proposals are due July 22.
Jennifer A. Fronczak, county GOP election commissioner, said that from a practical standpoint, the county can’t relocate the machines until after the November election. She said machine inspectors are working on the machines three to four weeks before each scheduled election, and the machines will next be used for the Sept. 9 primary.
Besides the new machines, the county stored used ballots at the former mattress factory, as well as the old voting machines with levers. Fronczak said the county request for proposals calls for at least 28,800 square feet, the same amount of space Ulrich has been leasing the county since 2009.
Ulrich said he might submit a new bid before the July 22 deadline. “We’re looking it over. We haven’t made a decision,” he said. Ulrich is leasing the county another 28,800 square feet in the same building for storage of old paper records that are being moved from Lockport.
That was a five-year lease, approved in October 2012, at $4.45 per square foot, which works out to $10,680 a month or $128,160 a year.
County Clerk Wayne F. Jagow said last week that county crews have almost emptied out the 13-year-old records storage building on Davison Road in Lockport, and in a couple of months, it can start on the other Davison Road storage site, which was originally a residence for nurses who worked at the long-defunct county infirmary.
Jagow said the county is using Public Works employees and can move up to 400 boxes at a time in a small U-Haul truck. Jagow says they do what they can, when they can.
Given work force availability, it might take two months to finish emptying that building, the clerk said. A covered vehicle must be used to haul the records, which state regulations say must be kept for decades or permanently.
“We had to have brand-new shelving set up (at the former mattress factory) so we could move things,” Jagow said. Kraftwerks a company from the Town of Tonawanda, supplied the shelves.
Some of the shelving in the current records building will be moved to Newfane, but some won’t.
As for records in the old nursing building, Jagow estimated they would take three to six months to move. He said the county would have needed to place a new heating and air-conditioning system in the former nurses’ building keep storing old papers there.