NIAGARA FALLS – The struggle between Mayor Paul A. Dyster and the City Council for control of municipal finances will see its latest installment Tuesday when Dyster appears before the Council at 4 p.m.
Council Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian has asked Dyster to speak about the city’s “financial plan regarding bond debt,” a hot topic earlier this month.
Choolokian and Councilman Sam F. Fruscione said they were dismayed to find that Dyster has budgeted more than $5 million this year in slot revenues from the Seneca Niagara Casino.
That revenue – which the Seneca Nation of Indians has withheld for more than three years as it fights with New York State over gambling expansion – is expected by Dyster but not guaranteed.
That has pushed the three-man Council majority, which also includes Councilman Robert Anderson Jr., to cancel recent funding to block clubs and cultural groups even though the funds were adopted into the budget last year.
The Council majority sees the move as a necessary step in staving off another fiscal crisis that could come if the casino funds dispute is not resolved by the time a $5 million debt payment on the city’s police station is due midyear.
Dyster and others see the steps as an unprecedented attempt to wrest financial control from the executive branch after the budget has already been adopted.
The mayor has said that the budget is a local law and that cuts made in this fashion decrease stability in all facets of city government.
The councilmen earlier this month warned that the cuts are only the beginning and that they will use some of the saved money for initiatives they deem more important to city residents.
A glimpse into that strategy came last week when the Council majority announced that it will spend $75,000 to put more police officers on foot in the city.
The initiative, already started by new Police Chief Bryan DalPorto, has gained praise from the councilmen as a way to keep the city safe above all else by putting police officers on the streets, on foot and on bicycle patrol later this year.
“Officer DalPorto is creative, he’s driven, and he has a lot of ideas – the old blended with the new – that we fully support,” Choolokian said in a statement. “There’s been a good deal of talk for a long time about increasing our crime-fighting efforts, now it’s being funded, and we’re going forward with Chief DalPorto and his hardworking police force.”
The city’s tourism district and neighborhoods are “the logical places” to target with new crime-fighting programs, Fruscione added.
To fund the programs, the Council will use $25,000 in tourism bed tax money and $50,000 from the contingency account it created by slashing various spending items during the budget process. It has roughly $450,000 remaining in the account.
The Council cut $35,000 in cultural and community beautification funding earlier this month. Tuesday’s Council meeting in City Hall, 745 Main St., will be Dyster’s first public exchange with the councilmen, although Fruscione said he does not expect it to be combative.