Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

October 28, 2013

Pendleton newcomer sets sights on top town post

BY BILL WOLCOTT bill.wolcott@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — PENDLETON — Do town residents like the status quo or do they think it’s time for a change?

The town supervisor’s race race pits Democrat James A. Riester, who is completing his fifth two-year term, and Republican Dominic Saraceno, a Buffalo lawyer who has lived in the town for six months.

Riester believes things are going pretty well in the town of about 6,500.

Saraceno’s campaign signs read, “It’s time for a change.”

Riester claims his administration cut the town property tax levy from $400,000 to $208,000 over 10 years.

Saraceno responds, “He keeps making those claims but I haven’t seen any documents. Where’s the documentation?”

Riester answers in return, “Look at the tax levy for 2004 and 2013. It’s black and white, pretty straight forward. Even a lawyer could see that’s right.”

Saraceno claims to have visited about 600 residents and learned they want change. Residents have not seen their costs go down, he said, because reductions in the town tax load have been offset by raised user fees.

”Taxes are always an issue,” Riester said. “When I took over, we had the highest tax amount, now we’re the lowest of towns paying tax.”

The town property tax levy was trimmed over time, according to Riester.

”We chopped the little stuff and the big stuff takes care of itself,” he said. “Streets are still getting plowed and garbage is still picked up. The fire department answers emergency calls.”

There is one less employee in the water and sewer department. Water operations were modernized with institution of automated meter reading about five years ago, Riester said. The town’s sewer system is being modernized over time. It has about 800 residential “grinder” pumps, which grind waste and pump it to a central system for treatment, and those are being replaced using a combination of federal grant money and sewer capital reserve funds.

The town acquired large recycling totes for residents this year to encourage recycling and reduce landfilling costs. The program should save the town about $25,000 a year, Riester said.

”We had money to buy the totes and give them to residents. It’s been a good deal and people seem to like it,” he said.

The town is nearly debt-free, Riester said. The only outstanding bond that it’s paying off is an old sewer bond.

Saraceno disputes Riester’s assertion that things are fine in the town. Newer residents told him that they moved to Pendleton because taxes were low, and now they’re as high as anywhere else, he said.

Residents also want the town to ensure controlled growth, so that its character is retained — and they believe local leaders are insensitive to their suggestions, he added.

Saraceno asserts that residents’ wants generally are not being met by Riester.

He said homeowners have been frustrated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s inclusion of their property on the floodplain map several years ago. Anyone with the designation who’s trying to obtain a mortgage is forced to purchase federal flood insurance.

To fight FEMA, homeowners need an attorney’s services, Saraceno said. The Town of Lockport went to bat for individual property owners affected by floodplain map revision in 2009, and he thinks Pendleton should do the same.

 “Why should they reach into their own pockets?” Saraceno said. “FEMA is a big issue and the supervisor has turned a cold shoulder.”

According to Riester, the town has fought FEMA, shelling out between $100,000 and $150,000 for engineering services to dispute the federal agency’s findings. Some homeowners have succeeded in using the engineering data to get some or all of their property removed from the floodplain map, he added.

”It’s still in the works, but our part is done,” Riester said.

As further proof that Riester isn’t meeting townspeople’s needs, Saraceno points to senior residents’ unfulfilled demand for a community center.

”It’s talked about, but nothing is done,” he said. “They are still in the talking stage.”

Yes, the town board has been talking about community center development for a few years, Riester said — while putting away some money for a project, and commissioning drawings that can be used to obtain some grant funding, which would cut the town’s cost to build one.

Riester, 63, is a science teacher at St. Mary’s of Swormville. He has the Democratic and independent Pendleton Tax Cutter ballot lines going into the general election.

Saraceno, 38, was raised in Hamburg and says he’s familiar with Niagara County. He has a general law practice in Buffalo and holds a master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in corporate financial management.He has the Republican, Conservative, Independence and Working Families ballot lines.

Slates formed in town races PENDLETON -- Four candidates are pursuing two open, four-year seats on the Town Board. Eileen H. Czarnecki and incumbent board member Edward P. Harman have the Democratic and Pendleton Tax Cutter ballot lines in the general election, as does town supervisor candidate Jim Riester. David I. Fischer and Aimee A. Jarvis, a registered Democrat, have the Republican, Conservative, Independence and Working Families ballot lines, as does town supervisor candidate Dominic Saraceno. There is also a contest for the town highway superintendent's post. Incumbent Jeffrey R. Stowell has the Republican, Conservative and Independence ballot lines and Aaron J. Bair has the Democratic and Pendleton Tax Cutter ballot lines. The highway superintendent's term of office is two years. Terry J. Pienta is running unopposed for reelection as town clerk. The clerk's term of office is two years.