Niagara Falls-- The city council has, for the second time this year, voted 3-2 in voting no to a Mayor Paul Dyster's request to enroll the city in what New York State calls their "Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments".
The program offers up to $5 million in grants in exchange for the participating municipality adhering to recommendations made by the state board.
Some in the media and local city hall observers have shaken their heads in dismay as the council failed to snap at the chance to snag the financial wit, wisdom and cash offered by Albany.
That refusal to take the cash and accept the direction of the state program make sense, especially when one stops to consider there are steps the Dyster administration could do to right the city's financial ship without input from Albany.
One Shot Gimmicks
Why hasn't the Dyster administration accepted the advice of the state as contained in the 2013 NYS State Comptroller's audit of the city in which the state's number one recommendation was to stop using "gimmicks and one shot tricks" to close the annual budget gap? By gimmicks and one shot tricks the comptroller meant, among other things, using "rainy day" savings accounts that the city maintains in the event of an emergency, a shortfall or sudden downturn in revenue to balance the budget.
The advice not to use this "one shot" was delivered by Albany in writing in 2013 and the Dyster administration in 2014, and again in 2015, used this "one-shot gimmick" to close the gap.
Develop a Casino Spending Plan
Why has Mayor Dyster refused, for the past seven years, to create a casino cash-spending plan? How can a municipality that received $89 million in June, 2013 not have a plan as to how this windfall is to be managed?
Figure the Cost of the Train Station
How is it possible that the train station has no plan as to how it is to be maintained and operated? Last year Senior Planner Thomas DeSantis told the council that such costs would be calculated after the building was complete and its doors opened. A conservative estimate as to operating costs would be $250,000 annually but it could be more, no one apparently knows.
Stop the $100,000 Salaries
Why has Mayor Dyster created a city hall where $100,000 salaries for top officials are the rule rather than the exception? During the administration of the previous mayor, Vince Anello, top salaries were in the $60- $70,000 range. Dyster is paying his people more money than similar positions pay in larger cities such as Buffalo. In addition Dyster has taken overtime through the roof and continues to hand out stipends as if they were candy. Dyster has – until these top salaries, stipends and overtime handouts are rolled back – skewed the city's payroll and all related costs of government.
Deliver the Budget on Time
What is Mayor Dyster's reason for violating the city charter for two of the last three years by withholding the proposed city budget beyond October 1? The failure to deliver the budget affects the financial rating of the city, makes the city appear as a bad risk for investors, gives the impression to Albany that we can't handle our finances and insults city residents.
Hire a City Engineer
Why does the Mayor continue to violate the charter by refusing to hire a city engineer? The failure to have a licensed engineer has cost residents millions of dollars. Dyster fired city engineer, Bob Curtis, and allowed the courthouse to run wildly out of control as it was built without a city engineer overseeing the work. Since then Dyster has: built roads that have begun to crumble in their second year; failed to open the costly Underground Railroad Interpretive Center; constructed a train station that is swelling in cost; continued to drop millions into the Ice Pavilion for consultants and work; essentially destroyed Jayne Park and spent money on consultants for everything from parking studies to parks studies to lawyer fees.
Dyster fired the last city engineer Jeffrey Skurka - just before the train station was to get set to be built and already change orders have come in making the train station like the courthouse - more expensive than promised and without a city engineer overseeing the work.
Do Mayor Dyster and the council need an Albany financial restructuring board to explain to them what you read here?