NIAGARA FALLS – Despite fiscal crises caused by the cutoff of Seneca Nation casino revenues, neither Niagara Falls nor Salamanca needs a control board, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said Monday.
He was asked about the situation during a news conference in Niagara Falls City Hall to unveil examples of the fiscal profiles the Comptroller’s Office soon will post on its website for all local governments and school districts in the state.
DiNapoli chose the data for Niagara Falls and Salamanca, the two cities crippled by the Senecas’ refusal to pay a share of casino revenues to the state, as examples of the new six-page reports.
Niagara Falls has done without $60 million in casino money in the past three years because of the Senecas’ dispute with the state over gaming exclusivity.
DiNapoli’s report says Salamanca could run out of cash before its fiscal year ends March 31, since its revenue shortfall of $2.5 million this year is 35 percent of its budget.
Before the Senecas closed the monetary spigot, Salamanca was enjoying double-digit annual revenue increases – and nearly 10 percent average annual spending increases, DiNapoli reported.
“The demands on city government did not go away when casino revenues did,” Salamanca Mayor Jeffrey L. Pond said in a statement.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster said he intends to create a “blue-ribbon advisory panel” to help him with the Falls’ fiscal management. Although he said the panel would have no legal powers, he said it would be helpful to have more people with financial know-how to assist the city. The members need not be Falls residents. Dyster called it “our own version of a control board.”
“Every once in a while, someone on the Niagara Falls City Council will mention that we should have a control board,” he said. “That power resides here, with the City Council. To my mind, a control board is what happens when you’re not making the tough decisions.”
The finances of the City of Buffalo and Erie County are monitored by control boards.
The reports include data that cities already report to Albany, but it’s going to be regularly posted instead of kept for internal use, DiNapoli said.
Eventually, the fiscal monitoring system will use a complex point system to calculate an overall score of fiscal stress for each locality, to be publicized and posted on the comptroller’s website. DiNapoli hopes the system will provide early warnings of trouble so it can be reversed.
The Niagara Falls report condenses into six pages a tale of woe that won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who has lived there for a while. The city’s population, now 50,000, is less than half of what was it was at its peak in 1960. Of those remaining, 17.6 percent of families live below the poverty line.
Almost 14 percent of the buildings in Niagara Falls are vacant, and the median home price is $65,400. For the cities outside New York City, the median vacancy rate is 9 percent and the median home price is $96,000. Also, 45 percent of the assessed valuation in the city is tax-exempt, compared with the state median for small cities of 32 percent.
In Salamanca, where the population is down to 5,800, the poverty rate is 15 percent, and 62 percent of property value is tax-exempt. About 90 percent of the city’s land area lies within the Senecas’ Allegheny Reservation.