Dyster Quotes Dickens in Presentation of Election Year Budget
By Frank Parlato
Last week, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster proposed his 2014 city budget that calls for no tax increases and no layoffs.
It was a 31-minute, stem winder of an address, delivered in council chambers, with Dyster admitting he raised salaries, increased spending, and borrowed from the city's savings to achieve the results.
It has all the ingredients of an election year budget designed to protect his two council allies who are up this year.
In his address, Dyster quoted from Charles Dickens' “A Tale of Two Cities,” to explain his budget represents a city having the “best of times” -- with the “worst of times” to follow.
The “best of times” is that the casino settlement left the city with surplus cash.
The “worst of times” is the cash will be soon depleted.
“In searching for a way to explain this paradoxical situation” Dyster said: “I turned to classic literature for inspiration. Remember the opening lines from Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities? 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...' Well, it's kind of like that. It's a paradox. On the one hand, we are, for the moment, cash rich. How did that happen?”
Well, it’s really quite simple. We got fat on casino cash and blew through it with the mayor’s extravagant spending.
Dyster's budget calls for increases in spending of $1.5 million. It dips into the city’s reserves or savings by $4.4 million to keep taxes from going up.
His proposed budget also uses $5.2 million of the city’s share of slot machine revenue from Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel.
That's $9 million dropped into the budget that will allow Dyster to avoid a tax increase in this election year.
Dyster will not be able to drain the savings next year and this will likely mean a tax increase for 2015, when neither he, nor his hoped-for new council majority, will be running for election.
Dyster’s proposed tax levy, the amount of money the city raises through property taxes, is $28.1 million, the same amount former Mayor Vince Anello collected in 2006.
Taxes have remained steady. This would be good, if not for the fact that Dyster’s expenses have increased from $67 million under Anello to $83 million under his watch.
Dyster is spending $16 million more per year, not counting tens of millions he spends for economic development plans using casino funds.
Meantime, Dyster raised salaries for many at city hall.
With a population of less than 50,000, city hall salaries have hit the $100,000 mark as a standard.
Before Dyster, Niagara Falls department heads earned between $45,000 and $68,000, which is more in keeping with the income of the people they serve.
Dyster raised wages by $1.1 million this year alone, including restoring City Administrator Donna Owens' salary to $110,000.
Former City Administrator Bill Bradberry earned $58,996 during the administration of Mayor Anello.
The position of city controller got a boost of $10,000 to $97,058, more than the Erie County comptroller and the Buffalo comptroller.
DPW Director Dave Kinney got a $200 per week boost and will make $80,500.
Dyster created new positions including $58,000 for a director of business development position.
Corporation Counsel Craig H. Johnson is getting $99,414; that’s $32,000 more than the previous counsel made.
Dyster raised Assessor James Bird from $64,000 to 74,000.
He created two positions in purchasing, where the sister-in-law of his campaign manager just landed: one for $53,000 the other for $34,000.
Human Resources Director Ruby Pulliam is still at $85,000. He raised her last year by $25,000.
Although he doesn't have one, he restored the engineer position to $95,000. The previous administration paid $68,000.
Somewhere toward the end of his very long speech, he also let those still awake know that, despite there being no tax increase this year, a tax increase would be “very difficult” to avoid next year and the year after.
In Dyster-speak, he said: “Based on everything we have seen about future cost and revenue trends, it will be very difficult-and I only say that because I try not to say that ANYTHING is impossible-that we will be able to do that again in the next several years. So we have a strong fund balance today, but we need to shepherd our resources carefully, because [we] are almost certain not to be able to regenerate it any time soon once it is depleted.”
And depleted it will soon be.
“We face several years of austerity and fiscal discipline before the positive effects of on-going economic development begin to catch up to the negative effects of rising costs,” he warned.
“Despite our current strong cash position, we cannot for long sustain the current imbalance between recurring revenues and expenses,” Dyster said, then continuing in a Dickensian vein, he added, “So are these 'the worst of times,' or 'the best of times?' As Dickens suggested when he first penned these now famous words, the answer lies largely in the perspective of the one asking the question. The truth, one suspects, lies most often somewhere between these extremes. That, I suggest, is where the City of Niagara Falls finds itself now.
“Then, like Dickens' protagonist Sydney Carton, whatever else fate brings, we will be able to say, 'It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.' God bless you, and keep working for a better tomorrow.”
Sydney Carton was being led to the guillotine, when he said those famous last words. Where Dyster is taking us is anybody’s guess.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
OCT 08, 2013