Mayor Michelle Roman on Friday called on the county legislature and the Niagara County Sheriff's Office to provide the city with a separate county dispatch frequency at no cost.
Her opponent in the Nov. 5 mayoral election, 4th Ward Alderman David Wohleben, says it's already in the works.
Roman, the Common Council, the Niagara County Sheriff's Office and the Niagara County Legislature were negotiating over consolidating dispatch services with the county for the past few months, with the legislature's most recent offer being the consolidation of dispatch on the common frequency that all law enforcement agencies share at no cost.
However, the legislature's resolution required an agreement with Lockport's police union, Hickory Club, and the union did not want to join the main frequency over safety concerns.
Roman asserted in a Friday press release that city taxpayers should not have to pay for a separate frequency.
"This is a service that the county government provides to all residents of towns and villages throughout the county. Lockport residents pay county taxes too. They should receive the same level of service as the rest of the county residents enjoy," Roman said. "City residents should not have to pay extra for 911 dispatch services."
Separately, Wohleben suggested they won't have to, because he's been hashing out with county officials a plan to get Lockport Police Department a separate frequency on the county system at no cost.
In a Friday phone interview, Wohleben said that when the Hickory Club stalled negotiations on dispatch consolidation over concerns about joining the county's main frequency, he decided to approach the sheriff's office and county legislators on his own to find a way to get the price down for operating a separate frequency. At the time, the estimate was $320,000 a year.
Wohleben said he had four meetings with county officials including Lockport-area legislators and Sheriff James Voutour over the past two to three months. Roman was not present at any of those meetings.
"I did not invite the mayor. I think the mayor is a big enough girl that if she wants to meet with the sheriff she can," Wohleben said.
Wohleben claims a county legislator told him that a letter to Mayor Roman offering LPD a separate frequency at no cost would be "forthcoming." He declined to name the legislator who told him this.
Roman said on Friday that she had not received the letter and was unaware of a deal.
City attorney Allen Miskell said a Common Council member doesn't have the authority to enter the city into an agreement.
“They can negotiate but they don’t have the authority to enter an agreement,” Miskell said of Wohleben’s talks with county officials. “And it’s not good to have too many cooks in the kitchen.”
Replied Wohleben: "Common Council members can certainly meet with the sheriff's office to get another deal."
Reached by telephone Friday, legislature Chairman Keith McNall, R-Lockport, acknowledged that the idea has been discussed, but said he needed to follow up with "a couple of folks" to determine whether it's on the table.
County legislator Jason Zona, who's a member of the legislature's Community Safety and Security Committee and also chairman of the county Democratic committee, said he was unaware of both the claimed confirming letter from the county and meetings between legislators and Wohleben.
Roman's Friday press release quoted Zona backing her call.
"Mayor Roman has worked proactively to address a serious issue that has plagued the City of Lockport for years and has been swept under the rug by the previous administrations," Zona said in the release. "The county has one of the finest dispatch centers in the state and has the capabilities to provide this service to the city. We need to find a way to provide this service to the cities within the county without cost."
Legislative Majority Caucus Leader Randy Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, who reportedly was involved in at least one of the meetings with Wohleben, could not be reached immediately for comment.
Hickory Club President Kevin Lucinski said Friday that the union supports maintaining a separate frequency whether it's at LPD or Niagara County.