Ortt delivers State of the City Address
BY: Kori Sciandra | February 02, 2013
In order to improve the fiscal health of North Tonawanda residents, Mayor of North Tonawanda Robert Ortt had to overcome many challenges and make tough decisions in 2012. During his recent State of the City Address, held at The Remington Tavern and Seafood Exchange, North Tonawanda, he addressed what is to be expected for the New North Tonawanda this year, as well as, the challenges the city and representatives have encountered while trying to get there.
Among those challenges was the joint efforts of local and county government including North Tonawanda, the Town of Wheatfield, and Niagara County, who worked together to solve the flooding problem, which had caused a headache for residents for many years.
To solve this “long standing quality of life issue,” North Tonawanda entered into an agreement with the Town of Wheatfield and allowed the town to enter into one of the outfalls located in the city, under Witmer Road. Ultimately this began the flooding relief. The agreement was made at a committed cost of $50,000 by the Town of Wheatfield.
In addition, an agreement was made with the County Refuse District, who admitted that the county landfill was one of the reasons that made this situation worse, and they too committed to contributing $50,000 for five years or until the project is completed.
And finally, North Tonawanda committed to contributing $50,000 as well. North Tonawanda began their portion of the work as soon as the Town of Wheatfield was completed, and now both those North Tonawanda and Town of Wheatfield residents are able to enjoy their homes again.
Among other difficult decisions Ortt had to make this past year was moving to a centralized emergency dispatch operation.
Due to an outdated system that would have cost North Tonawanda $300,000 to $500,000 to replace, Ortt chose to look into other cost effective solutions.
Utilizing the relatively new system that Niagara County was already operating from, and that taxpayers were already paying for, Ortt pushed to move six North Tonawanda dispatchers to Niagara County where they then took over dispatching for the city from a different location as of Jan. 1, 2012. This eliminated the duplicity of payment for taxpayers who were paying for the use of dispatchers at both the city and county level.
“If you had called 911 from a cell phone prior to July 1, 2012, your call was answered by a county dispatcher sitting in Lockport. He or she would have to transfer your call to a North Tonawanda police dispatcher adding valuable seconds to the emergency response time,” said Ortt during his State of the City Address.
Prior to this centralized move, NT taxpayers were paying approximately $450,000 for the cost of six dispatchers. This move will save the taxpayers $1.7 million over the next five years.
Looking ahead to city projects, infrastructure improvements, and what the mayor referred to as the “New North Tonawanda,” Ortt was pleased to discuss what North Tonawanda residents can expect in 2013.
“New business means new jobs and new families. Government doesn’t do any of these things. However, it does have a responsibility to create an environment, and atmosphere that will foster growth,” said Ortt.
Gratwick Riverside Marina, formerly known as the Niagara River Yacht Club, has been vacant for the past six years.
Last year, the city entered into a public/private partnership with Specialty Restaurant Corporation (SRC), which will allow SRC to operate Lumberjack’s, a waterfront restaurant at the marina located on the bank of the river, and to manage the docks and slip rentals. As SRC manages this establishment, the city will receive a percentage of the income from the slips.
This is expected to create a waterfront boater destination for those who travel along the Niagara River, as well as, showcase what North Tonawanda’s waterfront has to offer. The restaurant is slated to open Memorial Day.
City projects, which included Walmart and the Remington Lofts were discussed in Ortt’s speech and he was more than pleased to show his appreciation for the fact that first-rate business leaders chose North Tonawanda as the location they wanted to open their businesses.
“North Tonawanda must be able to attract new business in order to grow,” said Ortt. “However, we must not forget about the existing companies that have been here for generations and have added to the character and fabric of our community.”
The three companies Ortt spoke highly about, Aquasol Corporation, Armstrong Pumps, and Taylor Devices, have all purchased land at the Buffalo Bolt Business Park and plan to expand their facilities in the city. This is great news for the city, because it shows these companies are here to stay and have a vested interest in the future of the city. This will create jobs, as well as improve the overall image of the Business Park.
After years of the city going back-and-forth regarding the fate of the Meadow Drive extension, Ortt and his staff, City of North Tonawanda Attorney Shawn Nickerson, and City Engineer Dale Marshall made it a point to work tirelessly to make this project a reality for taxpayers.
Ortt noted there is currently $1.2 million in federal funds allocated for this project, which is money that belongs to the taxpayers, and safely assumes those funds will not be accessible much longer so he wants to get this project underway. He told those in attendance Wednesday, the city is close to bidding the project out.
“Make no mistake, I am committed to completing the Meadow Drive extension this year,” said Ortt.
Ortt wrapped up his speech by stating, “We have seen real progress over the past several years in North Tonawanda. We have seen existing companies grow and expand, and we have seen new companies and businesses come in...There will be challenges ahead and difficult decisions to make, but we have met those challenges in the past, and we will continue to meet them.”
Ortt plans to continue to make fiscally responsible decisions, cut costs and control spending, and look to better the future of residents in a long term perspective, rather than just for the short term.
Other items on Ortt’s list for 2013:
• Bonding $25,000 to purchase 1,000 more large recycling totes. Just under 2,000 tons was recycled last year, which saved the city $17,000.
• Offering a tax incentive to bring more single families into NT to strengthen neighborhoods. This will allow for a one time local tax credit for any property owner who turns a multiple dwelling home into a single family home.