With $ 57.2 million available from the American Rescue Plan, Niagara Falls has lots of pandemic stimulus money to spend and lots of ways to spend it.
In recent days, Mayor Robert M. Restaino has announced that police, firefighters and business owners will be among the beneficiaries of the federal funds.
As part of a $ 4.6 million policing package, the city will set up two police substations, one near downtown and the other in LaSalle.
Neither will be open to the public, but both will be used as staging areas for officers, Restaino explained at a news conference last week.
The locations will be the Doris W. Jones Family Resource Building, 3001 Ninth St., and the city water treatment plant, 5815 Buffalo Ave.
At a special April 22 meeting, the City Council approved the purchase of 10 new police patrol cars for about $ 342,000, plus another car reserved for the Warrants Division for an additional $ 32,570.
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The 2021 Dodge Durangos are a step forward for the impoverished city, which customarily has bought used cars for its police in recent years – when it purchased vehicles at all.
“Now, officers can feel comfortable that the cars they’re working in are safe and working properly,” Police Superintendent John Faso said in a news release.
It was the second large police vehicle purchase of the month. On April 6, the Council spent more than $ 432,000 on American Rescue Plan money on 12 other police vehicles. They included six Dodge Chargers for detectives, three Chevrolet Tahoe SUVs for patrol use, a $ 39,000 Ford Interceptor for the Traffic Division, a $ 42,000 Tahoe for the deputy chief and a $ 41,000 Jeep Cherokee for the chief.
FM Communications of the Town of Tonawanda will be paid $ 112,250 to outfit the 10 Durangos patrol, while Empire Emergency Apparatus of the Town of Niagara will be paid about $ 91,000 to equip the Warrants vehicle, the Chargers, the Tahoes and the Cherokee.
In December, the city also spent $ 766,000 on 90 new Tasers and 90 new body cameras for police officers. The new cameras are supposed to provide better video and sound quality than the bodycams the department has used since 2015.
Axon, the same company that manufactures the new bodycams and Tasers, also sold the city a virtual reality training package. Officers will wear virtual reality headsets that will feed them images of a given situation so instructors, using a Samsung Galaxy tablet, can see how they react. The new system will go into use in the next few weeks.
The Council on April 22 also approved Restaino’s plan to allocate $ 3 million for the city’s development agency, NFC Development Corp., to use in grants to businesses owned by minorities and women.
The city has a deadline of Aug. 31, 2024, to spend the $ 3 million, so the application deadline was set for April 2024.
NFC will offer grants of $ 50,000 to existing minority- or woman-owned businesses, and up to $ 25,000 for eligible startups, according to a memo from Restaino to the Council.
The Fire Department wasn’t ignored, either, thanks to a $ 4.8 million package of pandemic cash, which is supposed to include five new fire trucks, Restaino said in December.
The city has already bought seven new thermal imaging cameras, offering sharper images and temperature readings for firefighters to use when entering burning buildings.
“These new thermal imaging cameras are a game-changer for Niagara Falls firefighters,” Fire Chief Joseph Pedulla said. “They will literally serve as firefighters’ eyes before they ever enter a burning building.”
The cameras, costing about $ 4,200 each, came from Dival Fire & EMS Supplies of Buffalo, as did 90 new sets of hoses and fittings for air packs used by firefighters. Those cost more than $ 152,000.
The Council also approved $ 28,230 for new windows at the firehouses on 72nd Street and Bollier Avenue, plus another $ 15,947 for upgraded heating and air conditioning in those buildings. The contractors are Wonder Windows of Buffalo and Irr Supply Centers of North Tonawanda.
“Over the years, the condition of our fire stations has taken a backseat to other more pressing needs – such as new, safer equipment,” said Pedulla, who called the living conditions in some of the fire stations “substandard.”
In addition, business owners will soon be able to apply to the city for $ 700 to buy a security kit, including surveillance cameras. Applicants must agree to provide police with any footage they need for a crime investigation, and they must pay for any installation or subscription costs themselves.