Niagara County leads by example on organ donor registry: Jastrzemski, Updegrove, gov’t leaders sign up to donate

Surrounded by roughly two-dozen county leaders who agreed to be organ donors, Niagara County Clerk Joseph A. Jastrzemski added his name to the New York State Donate Life Registry at the Lockport Department of Motor Vehicles Tuesday.

Joining Jastrzemski were a collection of county government department heads and other top leaders, as well as new County Manager Richard E. Updegrove and county lawmakers Tony Nemi, R-Lockport, and Richard L. Andres, R-North Tonawanda. All were on-hand to ensure they, too, were listed in the state donor registry.

The group had assembled at the DMV because Jastrzemski spent the past weekend reaching out to local elected and appointed officials, asking them to “lead by example” and help reverse New York state’s second-worst-in-the-nation organ donor status. Jastrzemski, who heads up the county’s motor vehicle departments, said information provided to him by Unyts and the New York State Association of Counties that showed just 18 percent of New Yorkers had joined the registry convinced him leadership is needed on the issue.

Jastrzemski said motorists coming in to renew their driver licenses who elect to join the donor database have a “heart” symbol added to the front of their license, identifying them as a donor.

“It’s important that donors are identified quickly, so that organs can reach people who desperately need them,” Jastrzemski said.

He was joined by Jeremy Morlock, the manager of community engagement for Unyts, who provided additional statistics.

Morlock said more than 121,000 individuals are currently awaiting transplants across the nation, with 10 percent of them in New York.

“Sadly, an average of 22 people die each day because an organ was not made available for transplant,” Morlock stated in an information handout. “A single donor can save or enhance the lives of up to 50 people.”

“We’re asking our neighbors to join us and help save lives,” Jastrzemski said.

For the details, click here.

Schneiderman kicks off National Financial Literacy Month with consumer alert about common tax season scams

With this year’s tax deadline looming and April marking National Financial Literacy Month, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman offered New Yorkers tips to avoid falling victim to reported tax season scams. The attorney general also asked taxpayers to notify his office of any suspected fraudulent schemes designed to steal personal and financial information from consumers.

“Some of the most common scams reported to my office involve fraudsters targeting consumers during tax season, and I hope New Yorkers remain vigilant leading up to Tax Day,” Schneiderman said. “By keeping in mind a few basic tips and reporting suspected fraud, consumers can stay safe and ensure that they get to keep the full tax refund to which they’re entitled.”

In an effort to help New Yorkers avoid tax-themed scams, the attorney general’s office offers the following tips:

  • The IRS and legitimate government agencies never demand payment by phone;
  • If you owe money, you will receive a legitimate notice in writing that identifies the agency and the reason you owe money;
  • Do not give out personal information, including your Social Security number or bank account information, to telephone callers;
  • Legitimate government organizations will never threaten arrest or deportation for failure to pay a debt;
  • Legitimate government agencies will never insist consumers pay a debt only via a pre-paid credit card.

The following suggestions will help consumers file their tax returns safely and keep more of their return:

  • If you use a tax-preparation service, use only established and recognizable companies;
  • Check the tax preparer’s qualifications and history through the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org);
  • Ask for a written estimate of all fees; avoid those who base their fees on a percentage of your refund;
  • Make sure the tax preparer is accessible, even after the April due date;
  • Never sign a blank return;
  • Review entire return before signing;
  • Make sure the preparer signs the tax form and includes a preparer tax identification number (PTIN);
  • Consult New York’s “Consumer Bill of Rights Regarding Tax Preparers.”

For more tips, click here.

Town of Lewiston Town Board moves on public comments issue

It’s a matter of minutes.

So said the Lewiston Town Board, with regard to the time frame allotted to public comments.

And some residents attending Monday’s meeting weren’t exactly too thrilled about it.

At Town of Lewiston meetings, as in most government sessions, residents are provided a certain time frame to express their comments on town/government affairs. Most provide for a limited time at the beginning of a meeting, some allow for timed comments at both the beginning and the end, while still others allow for a much more open-ended comment period.

“Two-minute statements from the residents please,” began Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Broderick. “Come to the mic, state your name, and approximately two minutes.”

And so it began.

“Very disappointed residents are allowed only two minutes, once a month. Because of that, only 24 minutes a year. The county legislature, they let you speak twice. Niagara-Wheatfield School Board let you speak twice, beginning and end,” she said. “So I haven’t figured out what the problem is, with this two minutes, once. Whether you think it’s going to last too long. You don’t tape it anymore. … I’m an open government crusader and I hope you change it.”

That statement was met with applause.

Commenting on the public comments issue, the Alliance later issued the following statement:

“The purpose of (a) resident’s statement during a Lewiston meeting is for the Town Board to hear the thoughts of the people they serve. It should be a time where Town Board members receive input and ideas.

“Sadly, what has evolved are Town Board members who have demonstrated they care little about what the residents say and more about how long they say it, as was demonstrated by Mr. Broderick stopping a resident’s remarks because they ran out of time. The people suspect something isn’t right when free discussion is feared by the government.

“The Lewiston Taxpayer’s Accountability and Action Alliance hopes in the future the Lewiston Town Board will not only listen to what residents have to say, but give them the courtesy of finishing.”

To read the full story, click here.

Village of Lewiston Planning Board finalizes project variances

The Village of Lewiston Historic Preservation Commission/Planning Board met Thursday with Department of Public Works Superintendent Terry Brolinski, Engineer Mike Marino, Building Inspector Ken Candella and Lewiston No. 1 Volunteer Fire Co. director Barry Beebe to confirm the required variances for Ellicott Development’s Center/North Eighth/Onondaga streets plaza proposal and James Jerge’s Onondaga Street apartment complex/Fairchild Place lots.

“The purpose of today’s meeting was to solidify the variances that we feel will be needed by the Planning Board in order to allow these projects to go forward as they’re currently planned,” Chairman Norm Machelor said.

In addition to the variances, “We got a long memo from the fire department,” Machelor said. “They have questions about both developments.”

Before Machelor opened the floor to Beebe, he said, “We’ve been doing this for two years. We’ve had the fire department involved all along. But this is the first time we ever got anything in text from you – right at the end of the process. So, what’s going on?”

Beebe said, “We didn’t know we could make any comments yet. It seemed like it was open to the public, but comments from the public weren’t being accepted. So, I’ve been tracking the project.”

In his memo, Beebe, who’s also a senior designer with Lewiston’s Advanced Design Group engineers, listed internal traffic flow, building access, potable water, off-site traffic, snow removal and drainage/sewer as concerns surrounding the “Paladino plaza,” so-called after Ellicott’s CEO, William, who first presented the project plan.

For full details, click here.

USA Niagara board acquires Hotel Niagara, will issue RFP to develop hotel

The USA Niagara Development Corp. board of directors met today and approved the acquisition of 201 Rainbow Blvd. – the historic Hotel Niagara – for the purpose of issuing a request for proposals for the complete renovation of the architecturally significant property.

“The Hotel Niagara has been vacant for far too long and today we are stepping up to lead the way toward redeveloping this landmark property,” USAN President Christopher Schoepflin said. “With the goal of entering into a partnership with an experienced developer, USAN will ensure that this property is put back into productive use that will contribute to the visitor experience in downtown Niagara Falls.”

The property, one of the few remaining structures that pre-date urban renewal demolition activities in the city, offers several benefits to potential developers, including eligibility for historic tax credits and its location adjacent to the USAN-owned Conference & Event Center Niagara Falls, Old Falls Street and the entrance to Niagara Falls State Park.

USAN will purchase the property from JSK International Corp. for the fair market value of the property, which is up to $4.4 million. Funding for acquisition and related interim holding costs, including inspections, insurance and property holding services up to $5 million, will be provided through the “Buffalo Billion.” USAN does not intend to own the property long-term, but will need to acquire, hold and insure the property for approximately 24 months after closing. Any future transfer for development will require additional USAN board approval.

For all the details, click here to read.

Empower’s new bottle and can redemption center offers work opportunities for individuals with disabilities

Empower, the not-for-profit organization formerly known as Niagara Cerebral Palsy, recently has opened a bottle and can redemption center, called Empties for Empower.

The center, located at 4701 Military Road (near the Route 31 intersection), is available for anyone to use. The public can drop off bottles and cans, opting to receive a full deposit or donate it to Empower. Empower also earns money back on every bottle and can.

Empties for Empower is a job training and employment readiness program for individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities. These individuals sort the bottles and cans, and handle cash returns and donations. Funding for the program is provided through the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.

For the full details, click here!

New York congressional representatives send bipartisan letter to President Obama opposing Trans-Pacific Partnership

U.S. Reps. Chris Collins (R-NY-27) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY-25) today led a bipartisan letter from members of the New York congressional delegation to President Barack Obama opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

TPP is a free trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 countries: Malaysia, Mexico, Japan, Vietnam, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, Peru and Singapore. Members sent the letter as final negotiations are currently underway between the U.S. administration and the participating foreign countries.

“Western New York bears the scars of poorly negotiated past free trade agreements – scars like lost jobs, shuttered factories and a generation lost to economic opportunities that were outsourced to foreign competitors,” Collins said. “I cannot support a trade agreement that once again threatens America’s working middle class, and fails to address several of the biggest challenges facing American manufacturers, including currency manipulation and intellectual property protection.

“I want to thank Congresswoman Slaughter for her leadership on this issue and the rest of the New York delegation who joined us in signing this letter.”

To read more, click here.