By Jann Wiswall

Two representatives of the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) addressed the town of Ellicottville board on Wednesday, April 19 regarding the agency’s interest in purchasing the Dattner Family Property (the former Poverty Hill Ski Area) and establishing a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) there.

The 996-acre property, about a third of which lies in Ellicottville and the balance in Mansfield, will soon be appraised by the DEC; no offer on the property has yet been made.

According to the DEC, WMAs are actively managed to improve wildlife habitats. They are public open spaces used for outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching and the like. They differ from State Forests in that they are not maintained for timber-related activities.

The DEC recently sent letters informing the supervisors of both towns about the idea. Ellicottville Supervisor Matt McAndrew responded, saying the town did not support the plan. The rationale for his opposition was not elaborated during the board meeting; however, board members commented on the fact that there are many opportunities for hunting and fishing here and that there are two housing developments under construction off Poverty Hill Road that are adjacent to the proposed area of the WMA.

Local DEC offices are strongly encouraged by Albany “to ensure we have local support” for WMAs.

They said they had not yet received any comments from the town of Mansfield.

WMAs are funded by federal excise taxes collected on weapons, ammunition and sport fishing purchases and licenses through the Pittman-Robertson Act. The program is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which distributes funds to the states for wildlife conservation and management programs.

The DEC representatives argued that, while local property taxes cannot be collected on WMAs, they can attract tourists and could increase property values of bordering properties.

Board members asked about parking (current access roads would be available), motorized vehicle access (none permitted) and horse riding access (not permitted).

The board thanked the representatives for the information; there was no further discussion.

In regular board meeting business, McAndrew and Town Engineer Mark Alianello reported that they expect to broadly advertise for a Director of Public Works position after the job description is approved by the Village and Town boards in May.

Replacement of the Town/Village Hall’s HVAC system will begin this month. A few change orders will be needed, Alianello said, as better solutions to some construction issues have been found. The board approved Alianello’s request to pay the construction contractor $7,237.50 in advance for materials needed to begin the project.

While construction is underway, all meetings normally held at the Town/Village hall will be moved.Alternate locations will be announced in the Ellicottville Times as received.

At a recent county-wide Town Supervisors meeting, McAndrew reported that Mansfield Supervisor Bob Keis has been tapped to lead a land bank committee, which will represent all towns.

According to the Center for Community Progress, land banks are often formed to help communities convert “vacant, abandoned and delinquent properties into productive use.” Such “properties are often grouped together as ‘problem properties’ because they destabilize neighborhoods, create fire and safety hazards, drive down property values and drain local tax dollars. In some sense, these are properties the private market has altogether rejected.”

He also reported that town and village representatives met with recently hired grant writer Diane Cihak, who led the group through an exercise providing her with an overview of the municipalities’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. McAndrew noted that one of the biggest things “that holds us back is the seasonal nature of the area.” He said she floated the idea of trying to attract “smart industry” that would provide more permanent economic growth potential.

Highway Superintendent Tom Scharf asked the board to approve a request to hire a full-time temporary (six months) person to fill in while two department employees are out. The board approved the request and a pay rate of $13 per hour.

The board also thanked Scharf for providing the board with an equipment inventory and asked him to add detail on equipment condition and propose a replacement priority plan.

Under new business, the board approved a request for a Relay for Life Boot Drive on May 6 and approved the low bid from ST&J Lawn Care for town cemetery mowing.

Town Clerk Robyn George reported that online water bill payments are going smoothly. She said a link on the town’s website allows bill payment by credit or debit card or e-check and allows customers can check the status of their payments in real time.

The next meeting of the town board is scheduled for Wednesday, May 17 at 6 p.m.; LOCATION TO BE ANNOUNCED.