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TOWN OF NIAGARA – The Town Board voted Thursday to pursue a $600,000 block grant to help pay for long-awaited road and drainage work in the Belden Center area.

But residents were assured that even if the grant application is rejected for the third time around, the project would still move forward. In either case, the work probably would not begin until next year.

At a special public hearing, a handful of Belden Center residents continued their efforts to get the board to commit to the project which would replace roads that are covered in potholes and cracks and put in new sewer and water lines. The same group has appeared at several sessions over the past few years, including budget meetings and discussions about funding. In January, the residents pushed the board to commit any new sales tax money from the expansion at the Fashion Outlets of Niagara to the work in their neighborhood. The board agreed to secure $100,000 of the community host money from the mall.

Deputy Supervisor Sylvia Virtuoso told the group that the community development block grant from the State Office of Homes and Community Renewal was not guaranteed but the project would continue even without it. Results from the application are expected in September. The town has been turned down twice for the same grant, it was noted.

She said the residents needed to understand that the board has the fiscal responsibility to “go after free money” first before expending tax dollars.

The entire project of road, sewer and water line replacement had been estimated to cost about $2.5 million back in January. With the dedication of the mall funds, the town would be able to borrow the project money through bonding, according to discussions at previous meetings. A similar financing system was set up for work in the Veteran Heights area a few years ago, officials said.

Councilman Charles Teixeira said the project is still in the development stage and has not been fully designed by engineers so the bid process cannot begin. Councilman Danny Sklarski told them the project is “not being stalled but it’s not moving as fast as anyone here would like.”

Much of the flooding in Belden Center occurred last summer because of the inadequate drainage network. Part of the solution is to direct the new sewer lines to the Niagara County Sewer District instead of to the Niagara Falls Water Board system. Officials blamed back-up in the city system for all the flooding last year. In addition, a new pump station is expected to be installed near Lockport Road to help handle water.

In a related matter, several councilmen were critical of the Rotella Management Grant Services which has been hired to apply for grants for various town functions, including the community block grant for Belden Center.

According to the discussion, the town has been paying the firm $900 a month for writing grant applications for the past two years. The cost is spread among several department budgets.

Councilman Marc Carpenter said he wondered how many grants Rotella has been able to secure since it was hired. Sklarski commented that the “chief of police seems to get more grants” than the firm.

A representative of the firm attended the grant hearing but left the work session before the item regarding the $900 bill came up on the agenda.

Virtuoso said she would like to see the company be paid a percentage of the grants awarded rather than a retainer fee. She said she had no problem with Rotella but disagreed with the fee.

The board agreed to put the payment on hold until the matter could be discussed with the firm.