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Faced with costly and repeated acts of vandalism in an East Side park, one Common Council member is speaking out against the “senseless” defacement of public property – and putting $200 of his own money where his mouth is.

Council President Richard A. Fontana, of the Lovejoy District, is offering a $200 reward to anyone who can help Buffalo police track down the individuals responsible for fire that damaged a new shelter and picnic tables at Houghton Park in the city’s Kaisertown neighborhood.

“We want to know who did this,” Fontana said Sunday in a telephone interview. “Bring me the people who did this; we’ll prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”

Fontana said it was likely that the park is the No. 1 target of vandalism in his district.

He said the damage, which he learned of and saw firsthand late last week, flies in the face of city leadership’s commitment to Buffalo’s parks system.

In Houghton Park alone, Fontana said, the city has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars on new shelters, among other improvements, over the last several years.

“We’ve been investing a lot of money into the park and trying to make it nice for everybody,” Fontana said. “This type of vandalism really is senseless.”

Fire damage to the shelter, which left parts of the structure’s concrete base and metal roof charred black, is just the latest in a long line of vandalism-related incidents that residents and park users have had to deal with in recent years, Fontana said.

Many of the park’s surfaces have been defaced by graffiti, with vandals scrawling tags and obscenities across tables, benches, and even tree trunks.

And the damaged shelter is not the first building to have been scorched by vandals, Fontana said, recalling that the same fate befell another structure several years ago.

All told, Fontana estimated that vandals had dealt the park more than half a million dollars’ worth of damage in a matter of years – a fact he called “absolutely ridiculous.”

“The residents of Kaisertown don’t put up with this,” Fontana said.

Luckily for residents, potential crime deterrents may be in the offing.

Having already restricted park hours about a year ago – the park now closes at dusk instead of 10 p.m., which in fall and winter can mean well after nightfall – Fontana said he is in talks with the police and the Parks Department to consider other measures. Among them, he said, would be installing surveillance cameras, increasing security patrols or lengthening the hours of park employees.

Fontana said he received a call Sunday morning from Mayor Byron W. Brown to discuss the matter.

City spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said the mayor has instructed the police and the Public Works Department to “come up with a plan for the situation at Houghton Park.”

The city’s graffiti crew is expected at the park this week.

Anyone with information about vandalism in the park is asked to call Fontana’s office at 851-5151 or the Police Department at 847-2255.

email: hglick@buffnews.com