Monday was the second time the Niagara Falls Advisory Panel met with the City Council to deliver an urgent message, to stop using casino funds to balance the city’s budget.
A meeting between Advisory Panel Chairman Carmen Granto and the Council took place in November, but Granto said that if they don’t stop their extravagant spending, there won’t be any casino money left for investment. Rather, all monies will be committed to the general fund. Granto said that the Advisory Panel is more concerned with the City Council’s lack of urgency regarding the issue than the dollar figures. He said procrastinating will only lead to fewer options and more severe consequences, according to the Buffalo News. Granto urged the City Council to consider having 911 emergency services taken over by the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office and renegotiating health care with unions, which would be in the best interests of the city.
According to Advisory Board Member Frank Soda, while the tax levy has barely budged by $1.4 million, general fund expenditures have increased by $10 million. Soda said that the 2016 budget for use of casino money is $13 million, which has increased from $4.3 million in 2009. He said, if it costs more to run the city now than it did 10 years ago, so be it, but don’t use false claims of practicing a conservative budget when every time a budget needs to be dealt with casino money is used. Soda has been a City Council member since before the days of casino money, and said that, back then the Council only spent what they brought in or borrowed. He said today’s City Council must have discussions regarding delivery of services and realistic costs, as well as raising the taxes of business and homeowners.
Other Advisory Panel Members said the casino money has been used by the city as a crutch; the last reassessment was done poorly and the more money that came in the more that was spent. They were in agreement that the City Council needs to look for reinvestment options and meet regularly to find cost-cutting measures and ways for taxes to be gradually increased prior to a final budget being in place, when it will be too late.
On Monday, the Council was unsuccessful in cutting City Council Members future health care benefits. While benefits were cut in a 3 to 2 vote last month, on February 3rd the action was vetoed by Mayor Paul Dyster. The Mayor felt that having a benefits package was not unreasonable and would help to attract qualified candidates for future office.