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More changes are coming for Woodlawn Beach

HAMBURG — “We are a town divided, in many instances,” said Hamburg Town Board Member Councilman Mike Quinn on April 28, when the Hamburg Town Board again discussed Woodlawn Beach.

What started as a resolution to terminate and rehire personnel for seasonal positions turned into a disagreement among the board members about the future of the beach. The discussion drew both laughter and ire from the residents in attendance.

Quinn proposed an amendment to the aforementioned resolution, suggesting that the board terminate Barbara Lipka, who has managed Woodlawn Beach for the past two seasons. When Supervisor Steven Walters asked for justification, Quinn said, “Just going a different way.”

“Save the town money,” Councilwoman Cheryl Potter-Juda answered.

“You’re saving the town money by removing the person who is primarily responsible for the operations of Woodlawn State Park?” Walters asked. “It sounds like you’re trying to hurt Woodlawn Beach State Park.” He then asked again for the purpose of the amendment.

“We’ve changed some other things out at Woodlawn Beach,” Quinn answered. “We’re looking to further those changes. I know not everybody’s going to agree.”

Walters countered that change just for change’s sake is not necessarily a good thing. “This employee has been there for the last two seasons, has a stellar employment record, does not have a single discipline, a single counselling, anything in her personnel file to indicate that [Lipka] has been anything but entirely competent,” he said. “Under her stead, the beach has improved significantly these last two years. I challenge the board to give us what your reason is for making this change. Secondly, who would be undertaking this responsibility if this change is made?”

Quinn commended the supervisor for sticking up for someone he believed in, but said that “I just believe it’s perhaps a question of management style. It’s nothing to do with her attendance record or anything to that effect. I just believe we’re going in a different direction, and we’d like to continue to do so.”

Former Board Member Joe Collins asked how much financial profit the beach has generated and pointed out that the town already has a beach – Hamburg Beach.

Walters explained that both beaches “receive taxpayers’ subsidies to varying degrees.”

“I know how much Woodlawn loses,” Collins said. “I think a change in how it’s operated and how it’s managed might be a good idea.”

Walters explained, “When the town took over Woodlawn Beach, the last year of operation from the state of New York, the state of New York subsidized that beach with a little over $300,000 in taxpayer money, to keep that beach open and operating. Every year that the town has been running the beach, that number has been decreasing significantly; this past year, that total number was right around $30,000. We are quickly going in the right direction of what we should be.”

Walters said that he feels that it is important to provide recreation for Hamburg’s residents. “We don’t provide recreation to make money,” he said. “If we did, we wouldn’t have a single recreation program in this town. There would be no baseball. There would be no basketball; no football. There would be no town park. There would be no Woodlawn Beach, with the very limited exception of the golf course. The golf course actually turns a profit ... but that’s beside the point.

“The point is this: since the town has taken over that beach, we have seen significant improvements as to how that beach is run,” he added. “We have seen increases in the number of people that have been coming to the beach. Last year, we had over 20,000 paid cars go through the gate, which is the first time that beach has ever exceeded that number. The only other time it’s been close was 2012, when the town was running the park.”

Another former board member, Amy Ziegler, said, “You’re less than a month away from opening day [May 24]. Who, specifically, is going to be in charge of the day-to-day management of the staff and the programs at the beach?”

Quinn deferred that question to Recreation Director Martin Denecke, who was not in attendance. Quinn did say, “Don’t worry. It’ll get taken care of.”

“Mr. Denecke has spoken as to who he think should run that beach,” Walters countered. “If you’re going to defer to Mr. Denecke ... we already have the answer. You’re now saying you want to challenge Mr. Denecke’s decision and what’s been working.”

Potter-Juda said that Denecke has been informed about the decision and has said that his department will “be able to run functionally with the help he has.” Ziegler asked when Potter-Juda spoke with Denecke, but the councilwoman responded, “I don’t have a comment for you, at this time.”

Potter-Juda clarified, “The answer is to save money for the town, and if you take a closer look at that, which I didn’t want to announce, but there’s a person who we just said makes $15.50 an hour. The rest of these people are making $8 an hour; $8.24 an hour.”

Collins pointed out that Woodlawn Beach is not a town beach. “I pay for a beach for people in Lackawanna [and] the city of Buffalo,” he said. “I don’t mind paying for the town beach where it’s all restricted to town [residents].” He said that, as Woodlawn Beach is a regional beach, “people from outside the town of Hamburg use that beach, and it costs you, each and every one of you, money to run that beach for people who don’t live in this town.”

Walters countered that non-residents also play hockey at Hamburg’s arena and golf on the town’s golf course. “To say that we should erect barriers around our town and not allow people from Orchard Park or Eden or Lackawanna or, heaven forbid, the city of Buffalo, to come to our town to spend their money here in our town is ludicrous,” he said. “We want people to come to our town. Ask any owner of a shop, a retail establishment, a restaurant if they want people coming from out of town back into our town, and they’ll tell you absolutely they do. To have these gems in our town that actually bring people in ... we’re bringing in tourists, if you want to call them that, from around Western New York and Southern Ontario into our town to spend their money, and that’s a good thing.”

Regarding the matter at hand, Potter-Juda explained that these employees are “at-will,” under New York state law. “These are seasonal positions,” she said. “End of discussion. There’s no more to say about it.”

“There’s been a lot of dispute as to Woodlawn Beach having it or not having it,” Quinn said. “I obviously didn’t come here to destroy what’s already been built up. That was not my intention at all. As for what’s been going on down there, I voted with Mr. Walters, against the councilwoman for the concessions contract, which we thought was going to be a good change. Now, there’s just another change in management style that we are addressing. I don’t like to make this personal and I’m sorry if anybody does. This is strictly business. We think we are going to move forward with the people that we have and we’re intending to be open on time and to do a good job.”

“Simply by saying you’re changing the direction doesn’t give us an answer, and I think the public deserves an answer, because the public has become very invested in this beach as well,” Walters said. “The public takes great pride in this beach. Things have been improving. If things had been getting worse over the last three years, I would say, ‘You know what, folks? You’re right. We’re doing something wrong. We need to change it.’ We’re doing just the opposite. We’re going in the right direction. And you’re saying we need to change it, and the fact of the matter is, that’s not the reason. Be honest with this board and give them the real reason why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

Walters suggested allowing Lipka to remain a part-time employee, to allow the board to have this conversation going forward, without affecting any of the other names listed on the resolution. Potter-Juda expressed concern about what the amendment would do to the time frame of opening the beach, but Walters said, “You’re not taking somebody off, so this is actually going to help get things in swing by keeping her around at least for another two weeks and giving us a chance to talk to Marty Denecke. How does this hurt the preparations?”

The board carried the amendment to allow Lipka to remain part time until Denecke could have his say at the next board meeting. “Hopefully by next meeting, I’ll have something in order to make this happen so that we don’t have this deadlock all the time,” Quinn said. “To put one person’s future into one person’s hands isn’t always an easy thing, and I really do not take it lightly.”

In other board news:
– In a discussion regarding a resolution to hire Richard Stoberl as a full-time dog control officer, Walters said, “I don’t believe that the town requires a full-time dog control officer. I think we just don’t have the number of calls to warrant this. I think if we’re going to make him full time, we need to be looking into making him an animal control officer, not a dog control officer. I think then this town board would be able to justify the increased expenses of bringing him into a full-time position. I think that might be something that would be warranted.”

It was brought to the board’s attention that, due to the potential training expenses, an animal control officer would not necessarily be the cheaper option.

Walters added, “[Stoberl] is fully certified to be a dog control officer. He does have that training.” Despite Walter’s vote against the resolution, the resolution passed two-to-one. The start date was April 29, at a salary of $15 per hour.

– Following a public hearing held at the board’s March 24 meeting, the board approved the rezoning of Lockwood’s Greenhouses, located at 4462 Clark St., from M-1 (industrial park-research and development district) and R-3 (multi-family district) to C-1 (local retail business district).

The March 24 hearing was the second held, due to the fact that conditions were not met within the original time frame. Now that the applicant has met all conditions and, since board’s original declaration remained unaffected, the board carried the resolution with the condition that “any future development or redevelopment of the site will require proper setbacks and buffering from the surrounding residential homes and site plan approval through the Hamburg Planning Board. In areas abutting residential uses, minimum setbacks shall be 50 feet from the property line, and this area shall include screening, fencing, walls and/or landscaping.”

– Hamburg entered a contract with Nussbaumer and Clarke for “engineering services and technical assistance” for the Mount Vernon sewer district sanitary sewer system. Nussbaumer and Clarke provided consultation for this district before it was dissolved as a commissioner district in March 2013. The company “has extensive background and knowledge of the district’s sewer system,” according to the resolution that was moved by Potter-Juda.

The resolution also said that these services were to be provided on an as-needed and directed hourly basis, at a total cost to not exceed $7,000.

– The board accepted a bid from West Herr Ford for five 2015 police interceptor sedans and utility vehicles, in the amount of $97,913. There were no other bids.

– DeLacy Ford was awarded the bid for a 2015 Ford Super Duty F-250 truck from the buildings and grounds department, at a total of $34,874.88. West Herr Ford’s bid was $35,060, but the town determined that DeLacy Ford “is a qualified and responsible bidder,” upon review of the options.

– Potter-Juda was appointed to the Hamburg Board of Ethics, for the term Jan. 1, 2014 – Dec. 31, 2015. “It must be a councilperson in that position,” Potter-Juda clarified.

– The low bid for vehicle maintenance in the police department from Joe’s Auto Service in Hamburg was accepted. The cost totaled $43.64 per hour for labor and 29.98 percent for parts. The other bids were not listed, but Walters said, “There were other bids. [Joe’s Auto Service’s bid] was the low bid.”

– Walters recognized the week of May 4 – 10 as municipal clerks week, in an effort to “further extend appreciation to our Municipal Clerk, Catherine Rybczynski, and to all municipal clerks for the vital services they perform and their exemplary dedication to the communities they represent.”

– Upon adjourning the public meeting, the board went to executive session.

The board will next meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 12 at the Hamburg Town Hall.

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