|Choolokian with the third member of the history-making council majority, Bob Anderson. Along with Sam Fruscione, the three men spearheaded the budget that prevented tax increases. They now plan to work with the Mayor to return the city to prosperity.
|Choolokian gets a kiss from his mother, Sylvia, on election night.
(Courtesy Niagara Gazette.)
|Alicia Laible lost by 232 votes.
The common refrain being sung across the country, about elections having consequences, is a sweet melody for some and a sour note for others.
The residents of Niagara Falls need look no further than last year’s city council election to find an example where people on each side of the aisle are singing different tunes.
The election of Glenn Choolokian and his rapid rise to the chairmanship of the city council has had a dramatic impact on the balance of power within City Hall and introduces a competing philosophy on the proper role of local government.
Choolokian, who ran for office in 2011 on the strength of his budget experience, didn’t have to wait long to prove to constituents the truth of his claim. The City Council was able to successfully amend Mayor Dyster’s 2013 so-called “disaster budget,” thereby avoiding the massive tax increases and layoffs city residents were facing as a result of the continued battle between the Seneca Nation and NY State.
Among the numerous items cut from the Mayor’s proposed budget were funding for the Hard Rock concert series, Blues Festival, and $3.1 million in funding to USA Niagara.
This new approach to government expenditures is certainly a different flavor and may be just a taste of what’s to come under Chairman Choolokian’s tenure. “Anyone who knows me knows that I emphasize responsibility and accountability in government. That means spending city dollars with a conservative approach,” says Choolokian.
The prolonged economic crisis the city is enduring as a result of more than $60 million in casino revenue being held up was a perfect launching point for Choolokian to try and change some minds about how public money should be spent.
“Taxpayer money should be treated like it is our own, hard-earned money – because it is! I have to laugh when people say, ‘We can spend those particular funds because they aren’t city dollars; they’re state and federal dollars.’ It’s all taxpayer money. Government dollars – whether local, county, state, or federal – had to come from a taxpayer somewhere. Somewhere along the food chain a person was taxed or paid a fee to make that funding possible. And because of that, those dollars should be spent with the thought and care that we use for our home budgets,” said Choolokian.
Choolokian is hopeful that he can build upon the renewed sense of teamwork during his term as chairman in order to get the council and the mayor’s office moving forward in the same direction. “The council worked long and hard to prepare the 2013 city budget. It was a team effort, proving that when our common goal is good government, good things can happen. I have no problem whatsoever working with the Dyster administration for good, responsible government that keeps the taxpayers’ interests front and center while holding down costs,” said Choolokian.
Choolokian is succeeding Council Member Sam Fruscione as chairman.
In contrast to numerous publicly funded initiatives of the Dyster administration, Choolokian believes that real progress will occur when city officials stop tilting the scales in favor of special interests and level the playing field for everyone.
“The city, or any level of government for that matter, can do two things to encourage business and development: hold down taxes and step out of the way of real developers,” said Choolokian. “If you can hold down the cost of doing business and keep from obstructing legitimate businesses, then you’ve gone a long way toward assisting overall development.”
Choolokian believes the many public works’ projects the city has chosen to undertake, relying heavily on public subsidies and tax breaks, are not the solution to long-term success. “Let’s face it, there are plenty of questionable or failed projects across the region that would have never been built but for easy access to “public money.” According to Choolokian, “grants and special government incentives won’t guarantee success if the business is wrong, or if the sole reason the venture makes sense is the availability of public financing. Just because you funded it, built it and then cut the ribbon doesn’t make it a success. If we create the proper environment for development, private enterprise will make sure to invest in businesses that make sense – and profit.”
It is with that type of investment strategy that Choolokian sees the way to create jobs and expand the local tax base.
Choolokian says “a city has to work to create a positive business climate and then let nature take its course. The city has been taxing local business owners to death, while at the same time, giving their new competitors grants and tax breaks. This type of meddling is harming established businesses and gambling on the future success of some unknown entity. If the city would stop hamstringing the businesses with fees, paperwork and regulations, then these new ventures might be able to get off the ground without taxpayer support.”
Choolokian, a tireless campaigner and long-term advocate for responsible city government, was a council member in 2005, serving the final year of former council member Vince Anello’s term after he was elected as Mayor of Niagara Falls.
He never gave up his pursuit to return to City Council because he believes that until Niagara Falls breaks the decades-long cycle of misusing public funds it will continue to be a depressed city.
“Responsible spending, holding down taxes and letting the magic of the marketplace do the economic development for us are the keys to getting Niagara Falls back on its feet,” Choolokian says.
Mindful of his narrow victory over Alicia Laible, Choolokian believes that the voters who put him over-the-top would demand he not compromise the platform upon which he ran.
“The voters heard me out and I managed to win in a very close race. My platform is responsible budgeting, accountability to the taxpayer and government transparency. I certainly don’t believe in using taxpayer dollars to fund bad projects just so a claim of ‘development’ and ‘activity’ can be made so we can all pretend that things are moving in the right direction,” said Choolokian. “There’s little doubt that other candidates approached the 2011 council race from a different perspective, that government can do the magic of development, and that we can spend our way to prosperity, but thankfully, the voters had the last word.”