NIAGARA FALLS – One month after Mayor Paul A. Dyster threatened to withhold fire service from the Seneca Niagara Casino, the City Council is playing its own version of slot revenue hardball.
Lawmakers will vote Monday on a plan to charge both the state and the Senecas for fire and emergency medical services provided by the city at the casino and the state parks around Niagara Falls.
The proposition comes as the city waits for more than $58 million in slot revenue the Senecas have withheld as part of a gambling dispute with the state.
“We didn’t start the fight, we’re just stuck in the middle,” Councilman Glenn A. Choolokian said Thursday. “Without the host community, the casino wouldn’t be here, and the state and Senecas wouldn’t be making all this money.”
Questions remain about the legality of the proposal, and Corporation Counsel Craig H. Johnson declined to comment.
But Choolokian and Council Chairman Sam Fruscione have drafted a plan that would require the state and Senecas to reimburse the city for everything from emergency medical calls at the casino ($148 per hour) to gorge rescues at Niagara Falls, Whirlpool and Devil’s Hole state parks ($528 per hour for multiple trucks).
The plan comes as the Council anticipates what Dyster has called a “disaster budget” that is nearly four weeks late and could include layoffs of city workers.
“If we don’t have a way to provide the services, we have to start charging,” Choolokian said. “[We’re in] a very bad spot and we’re just trying to be creative.”
While the plan is designed to help the city fill its coffers as it attempts to close a $10 million budget gap, Choolokian said it is also meant to get the attention of state and Seneca leaders.
It is unclear how the city would enforce such a measure, which calls for the city controller to bill the state and Senecas for the services.
If the parties do not pay the city by Oct. 15 of each year, the resolution states, the Council “shall order each unpaid fees to be assessed against the real property to which the fire call was made or the public works service was provided.”
According to a recent decision by the State Appellate Court, though, state courts do not have jurisdiction over sovereign land like that of the Seneca Nation.
Dyster raised eyebrows early last month when he suggested that the city could stop providing fire services to the casino – the city’s tallest building – before it laid off employees.
He did not respond to messages left for comment about the Council resolution, though he is scheduled to present the “disaster budget” at Monday’s 4 p.m. Council meeting at City Hall, 745 Main St.
Through spokesmen, State Parks and Seneca Nation officials declined to comment on the resolution. The dispute, which centers around the state’s attempts to expand casino gaming, is being resolved through arbitration, both sides have said.