A few cash-strapped cities in the state may soon get a boost through a budgeting partnership program that was announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in his State of the State address, and Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster would like his city to be at the top of the list.
Dyster on Monday sent a letter to Cuomo requesting that Niagara Falls be one of the pioneer cities to participate in the recently announced Financial Restructuring Assistance Program, an initiative by the governor aimed at providing expertise from both the public and private sectors to help local governments restructure their finances.
“I think all upstate New York cities are facing the same survival issues, but a lot of attention is being paid to the financial issues in Niagara Falls because of the casino revenues dispute,” Dyster said in a telephone interview Monday.
Millions in budgeted casino revenues have not been remitted to the city because of the long-running dispute between the state and Seneca Nation. As a result, Moody’s credit rating service dropped the city’s credit rating two slots – from A2 to Baa1 – because of what it called “significant declines in the city’s general fund liquidity and reserve levels.”
“Even if that were resolved tomorrow, we would still have some of the same structural budgetary problems as many upstate cities do,” Dyster said.
Those cities that are eventually selected to take part in the Financial Restructuring Assistance Program will have access to expertise from the state’s Budget Division, Comptroller’s Office, Attorney General’s Office and private-sector restructuring consultants.
“I suppose there is going to be a lot of competition for this help, but I have not seen where any other city has stepped forward to be first,” said Dyster.
“These are trying times for all levels of government, and the City of Niagara Falls is facing serious challenges,” he added in his request for consideration by the governor. “Cities need to be smarter with their financial approach and clearer with the public about the realities of their budgets. The Financial Restructuring Assistance Program can help the City of Niagara Falls accomplish all of these goals in partnership with [the governor’s] administration.”
Niagara Falls has been perpetually plagued by high unemployment and an impoverished population that is half its peak level of the 1950s. In addition, the city is saddled with municipal debt.
Under the administration of former Mayor Vince Anello, the city borrowed to pay for its Main Street police station, resulting in a $5 million yearly payment it planned to pay with the casino funds the city has yet to see because of the dispute between the state and the Senecas.