BY JOE OLENICK
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — TOWN OF LOCKPORT –– David J. Mongielo was removed from a Lockport Town Board meeting Wednesday night, following a public comment period.
Speaking during the comment period, Mongielo questioned the wages of town officials which will rise 2 percent in the 2013 budget. Next, he spoke about the November DWAI acquittal of Town Attorney Daniel Seaman. Mongielo charged Seaman got off because of his political influence.
Town Supervisor Marc R. Smith cut Mongielo off, citing Mongielo’s comments were a personal attack. Smith directed Mongielo to return to his seat or he would be removed from the meeting or arrested.
“You’re limiting free speech,” Mongielo said.
After being told again, Mongielo kept talking and was escorted out of Lockport Town Hall.
At its regular monthly meeting, the Town Board offers a period of time for residents to ask questions, air concerns or offer comments. There is no law that requires governments to hold public comment periods.
The town does have a policy in place for the comment period. According to the policy speakers have five minutes to speak and all comments must be directed to the board as a whole. The speaker must also stay on topic, “which is to comment on town policies, finances, procedures, etc.”
The policy also states: “If comments are made from the floor, or if any speaker uses inappropriate language or becomes abusive or unruly, or personally attacks any person, you will be cut off and may not be recognized in the future for public participation.”
Still, being removed from the meeting came as a surprise to Mongielo.
“I didn’t think they’d go to that extent,” he said.
Councilman Mark C. Crocker said Mongielo’s actions were a bad example of contact between the public and government. Town officials encourage free speech and opinions on town issues, Crocker said. If there is a charge of corruption, prove it, the councilman said.
”We’ll fix it, if it’s there,” Crocker said.
Councilwoman Cheryl A. Antkowiak called it an unacceptable lack of respect.
”You never further yourself with attacks,” she said.
Mongielo and town officials have a history of disagreements, especially in statements made at previous meetings. Mongielo is also appealing his conviction of violating the town’s sign ordinance and 15-day jail sentence. Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III will issue a ruling on the appeal sometime in the next few weeks.
In other town news, board members voted to override the tax levy cap for the water district in the 2013 budget.
The override was needed because the Town Board was concerned about the financial health of the district. The town changed water rates last year, but more has to be done to put the water district in a healthier state, town officials said.
The water district’s fund balance, which was about $1 million a few years ago, has fallen to $200,000. Smith said the town wants to build the reserve up so the town will have enough money to make repairs if needed. So, for the town water district, which does not include Carlisle Gardens or Lincoln Village, there will be a 23.74 percent increase in the water tax levy.
But the increase in taxes is offset by the use of sales tax revenue in the town’s fire protection district budget lines. That reduces the fire district taxes by over 10 percent.
As a whole, the preliminary $14.3 million budget is a spending increase of 2.46 percent or $345,699 and would require $5.5 million in taxes, roughly $51,455 or .933 percent increase from 2012.
In the budget, Town of Lockport homeowners, for a home assessed at $100,000, would pay $695.92, a decrease of $6.42 from 2012. The town has no general tax, but there are taxes for special districts like fire and water, as well as fees for garbage and recycling.
In Carlisle Gardens and Lincoln Village subdivisions, where the average assessment is $110,000, the average tax bill would fall by about $7. In Lincoln Village, with its average assessment of $70,000, the tax bill would decrease by $4.50.
A budget hearing will be held at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at the town hall on Dysinger Road.Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241.