Editor's note: This is the first of two stories on Dunkirk Mayor Anthony J. Dolce's first six months in office.
By GIB SNYDER
OBSERVER City Editor
OBSERVER file photo
Mayor A.J. Dolce, right, talks to Assemblyman Andrew Goodell. Dolce has just finished his six months in office.
It's been six months since Anthony J. Dolce was sworn in as mayor of the city of Dunkirk. The former councilman, who served in the at-large spot the final two of his nearly eight-years on council, talked about the transition and the beginning of his four-year mayoral term.
A big concern is the fate of the NRG plant and its contributions in PILOT payments to the city, school district and county. Dolce said talks with NRG and elected officials "higher up the food chain" continue.
"The long-term outlook looks promising. It's the short term that concerns me once that reliability study is done, what kind of agreement will take place," Dolce said. "The conversations are ongoing and I hope to have more information for the public shortly."
The Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement provided $3.8 million to the city this year. In addition, the way the PILOT is set up, payments are based on the amount of generating capacity being used. If the plant is running at half capacity once the state makes a decision, the PILOT payment could be cut in half.
"We had a meeting with one of our bonding attorneys a couple weeks ago and this came up at the end of it. He suggested when we start preparing budgets to do one without that and do one planning for a 50 percent PILOT reduction," the mayor explained. "I'd also like to add that the current PILOT schedule is set to decrease by $700,000 next year, regardless of what happens with the reliability study and any amendments to the current PILOT agreement."
Another unknown for the 2013 budget is unsettled contracts with three of the city's four unions. The firefighters settled with the city last year, agreeing to no raises for the last two of the three-year deal and adding more of a contribution toward health insurance from the firefighters.
Adding to the mix is Common Council's refusal to approve a deal for Dunkirk Housing Authority workers seeking their first union contract. Under state law, council must approve the DHA contract even though federal and state funds, not city funds, pay the DHA expenses.
As a council member Dolce voted twice on the DHA deal and was asked if council should approve it.
"Originally I voted no, until we got more information, spoke to Mr. (James) Briggs and Peter Clark, and then I supported it. My impression is, in no way do I think, will I pretend, or influence council on how to vote one way or the other. We, the administration, set up the meeting. We were here to facilitate the meeting and that's as far as our role goes," he replied. "My opinion, that contract should be looked at on its own and not compared to any city contract. I also recall back in October when I voted yes to approve the contract, I stated that the Fire Department had settled at that time and I stated that to me, the Fire Department should act as the basis for other future city contracts, not the Housing Authority. To me, the Housing Authority needs to be looked at as its own separate entity. It's a very small-membered body that is to me, it's basically just separate."
He was asked if any progress was being made on the unsettled city contracts and if state law keeping the contracts in effect until a new one is agreed to plays a role.
"At this point, no. At this point it's basically look, if we're going to have productive negotiations, we need to get all the information out there and the new health insurance information took some time to get to and that's it," Dolce stated. "We're just getting all the information, laying everything on the table, and our goal is to have productive negotiations.
"What I can tell you is we're out there getting a quote from another broker, concerning health insurance, and once we have that quote we'll continue to proceed with negotiations."
Raising water rates is another item coming up and Dolce said the numbers are still being worked up.
"What we're looking to do is when we go out and do the next round of bonding is to attach the adjusted numbers with that resolution and have a fund set up so any additional money received from the adjusted water rates will go directly to pay off the bond that we need to for the 2009 consent order," he explained.
There will be more work under the consent order to be financed.
"We're still deciding on how we're best going to do that. We had a meeting recently and we're pushing hard for (Environmental Facilities Corporation), which is low-to-no interest rates, which could get us out of the market and be a very positive thing for the city," the mayor said. "How much can go into there we don't know. There's also a possibility of grant funding with the EFC financing, but the chances of that are very slim, we're not counting on it by any means. Our focus is getting the low-to-no interest rates.
"The rates we locked in for the first $7 million was something like .6. The rates are great right now. The EFC financing can get us into a longer window whereas (City Treasurer Mark Woods) is getting these rates going year-to-year. If we can get into the EFC financing we can lock in a low rate for a longer period of time."
Dolce was asked if the city has met with its industrial customers about the coming increase.
"I met with Cott. Obviously NRG, I took another tour. I have to get to the others still," he replied. "I briefly spoke to Ken Johnson from Fieldbrook and he extended an invite, so I'll be sure to go there. I'll get to Carriage House, it's just one of those things where we just haven't found the time, but it's on the list."
Part two will run Sunday, July 8. Send comments on this story to firstname.lastname@example.org