When it comes to political shortsightedness, we’re sure that Niagara Falls must hold some sort of prize.
Otherwise, why would city lawmakers ignore a $13 million fiscal lifeline from the New York Power Authority and instead suggest a series of dangerous cuts in the mayor’s proposed budget, while creating their own “discretionary account?”
You can’t make this stuff up.
The budget must be adopted by Saturday and the City Council has used this tight deadline to make drastic changes to Mayor Paul A. Dyster’s proposed budget and dissolve what would be an 8 percent tax hike and restore half of the two dozen jobs that would be cut from city government.
The five-member Council has applied its own, special math – one without logic – in rejecting $13 million from the Niagara Power Project relicensing agreement. Sure, the money was supposed to have been spread over decades, but the city doesn’t have decades to wait.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo stepped in, engineering the transfer of money from NYPA. That was appropriate, since the Senecas have withheld the money from their Niagara Falls casino over a dispute with the state. But instead of taking the money, lawmakers have decided they can best figure how to cut the city’s budget down to size. They voted unanimously on all but one of the 150 amendments to the mayor’s proposed budget.
Those decisions were made without the benefit of public budget hearings with department heads and, instead of solving problems, created potential new ones.
In metaphorically shooting themselves in the foot, only stopping to reload, the Council made a huge cut to funds going to USA Niagara, created by former Gov. George E. Pataki to reinvigorate the city. Contrary to what Council Chairman Sam F. Fruscione believes, the agency has earned its money.
Niagara County Community College’s $30 million Culinary Institute Niagara Falls is but one example. There’s also construction of the $20 million downtown Conference Center and renovation of the city’s hotels. USA Niagara has helped upgrade seven of those hotels and formed a long-term development plan for the Falls with Old Falls Street as its centerpiece.
But Fruscione insists on breaking ties with USA Niagara, which won’t go away without the city’s money but would certainly be hobbled.
According to the Council chairman, real development is keeping the tax rate at zero percent. Good luck with that.
Perhaps he thinks that cutting the salaries of the city administrator by $40,000 and city engineer by $18,000 will do the trick. That would bring each to $70,000 and $77,000, respectively. This is no small change in a poor city like Niagara Falls, but it does nothing in the way of ensuring those current employees will remain, or that the city would be able to attract anyone from the outside in the future.
No worries, though, since the Council will create its own discretionary account that leaders said could be used for unexpected costs. In other places, they call that a slush fund.
This mess just gets messier, which is why the mayor’s expected vetoes on these ridiculous amendments should stand.