|Gov. Andrew Cuomo (left) has a contest for millionaires that he wants Niagara Falls to help fund, out of the city’s share of the casino funds. Mayor Dyster has eagerly agreed to do so, but the council has not yet approved it. The Reporter proposes the city keep the $4 million and use it to stave off tax increases (for non-millionaires) and layoffs.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster last Friday delivered his proposed 2015 budget to the city council, saying there is a structural deficit with the city’s revenue not enough to cover its expenses. To help cover the shortfall, he said the city will have to lay off up to 17 workers, take $4.9 million from what he calls the "rainy day fund" which is simply the savings account the city has for emergency expenses, and raise taxes by 4.5 percent -- 7.7 percent for commercial properties and 2.7 percent for homes, which will bring in another $1.3 million.
This is all simply nonsense.
Taxes do not have to be raised.
Nor do workers have to be laid off.
Nor is it necessary to deplete savings.
You can thank the Niagara Falls Reporter for it later, but we found $5.5 million which would be otherwise wasted by Albany that could be used to eliminate the deficit and tax increase.
With two simple strokes, the city can solve its problems.
1 - Drop out of the $4 million annual governor's economic development contest, a contest where the governor decides which millionaire's business gets money for having the best development ideas.
The contest is the governor's idea.
I know it sounds rude but we are talking about raising taxes, laying off people and taking money out of the emergency fund.. Let the governor pay for his own contest and save $4 million a year.
2 - Cancel the $1.5 million annual contribution to the state agency, USA Niagara, for running parties and events on Old Falls St. and paying $100,000 plus salaries to people to run the Conference Center.
With two strokes of the pen, we are talking serious savings. And, after all, it is fair.
This is just the city taking back casino money.
The state already gets 75 percent of the Seneca's slot machine payments and the city, as host city, gets 25 percent.
The state gets $60 million each year and Niagara Falls gets $20 million from Seneca Niagara.
Somehow Dyster agreed to give the governor, out of our measly 25 percent, $4 million for his contest and $1.5 million to USA Niagara. That’s $5.5 million we are giving back to the state.
By doing this, the state is getting 80 percent of the casino money and the city is only getting 20 percent.
With that $5.5 million in savings, which will solve the deficit problem, we could then look at salaries, overtime, afreeze on wages; a freeze on consultants; a freeze on new vehicle purchases.
In order to take back the $5.5 million, the city would have to take a new approach to spending. One the mayor probably won’t like.
Right now, there are two parallel budgets: The regular city day-to-day budget which Dyster commands and spends and runs $4 to $9 million in the hole each year.
And then there is the casino money.
He says of the former, "look, I'm in the hole. I have to do all these things like raising taxes and depleting savings."
You may ask, ‘well, how about using the casino money? We'll buttress the city budget with it.’
He says, "No. That's its own budget. The casino money is only for special economic development projects. We only spend casino money when we know there is a return on investment. "
He says this, but his actions show it is untrue.
Consider what he has spent casino money on.
Police overtime, drug squad money, new cars for code enforcement, tree stump removal, city hall parking lot repaving, etc.
Dyster went so far as to give $500,000 of casino money to renovate a building for a not-for-profit corporation, Isaiah 61, for their reuse store and another $150,000 to Community Missions, which got hit with an IRS tax lien.
You can argue that Community Missions is economic development, that giving Community Missions money might mean that homeless people would get back on their feet, becoming productive members of society by holding a job, buying a house, raising their kids, investing in the community.
If you can stretch it that far then anything is economic development.
If you took casino money and went down to Wal-Mart and bought Walkman players for all the kids in the city, isn't that economic development because you are supporting this store and there's sales tax? There's nothing you can't hang the name "economic development" on.
That may be why Dyster never wanted a casino spending plan.
A plan would restrict him; a plan would demand transparency.
As it stands now, Dyster is the king and he will tell you when something is economic development or not.
Rugs and curtains for city planner Tom DeSantis' office at city hall, is that economic development?
Yes, if Dyster says so.
Dyster could say, putting in DeSantis' new carpets is economic development because when you have good-looking carpets it helps DeSantis do his valuable work in developing the city. He needs reasonable carpeting and drapes to match his value. He can't do his job unless he is in a decent environment and his work is to develop the city. Therefore new rugs equal economic development.
You can argue that the code enforcement department needs nine brand new Ford Escapes, or that police overtime, or hiring an outside company to remove tree stumps, is economic development.
You can argue that just about anything is economic development.
The casino budget is, as a matter of practice, only allowed to be spent when Dyster says it is to be spent and it is only an economic development expenditure when he brands it as such.
So why wouldn't you use casino money to cut taxes and call it economic development?
You could argue that tax reduction is economic development, and maybe the best kind.
After all, when you have lower taxes, people come and do business with you. By cutting taxes you free up money for the homeowner and the businessman and you generate good publicity for the city.
The city has to sell itself to investors and homeowners, the hot dog vendors, the insurance companies, whoever wants to locate in the city.
Tax reduction is the biggest, easiest, one-stroke argument for economic development.
Lower the taxes and everything rises.
Now consider, Dyster’s plan would raise homeowners' taxes $50 on average and $200 on the average business.
Consider, if everyone who paid taxes in the city had an extra $50, that $50 would flow into Michael's, the Como, Pine Ave hardware.
And for business, it is more severe: In order to make $200 net profit, you have to make $1000 in gross sales. They have to pass it on to the consumer. If a guy has a little shop in the city and he was going to use the $1,000 to fix the shop, put a new sign up, paint the inside of the building or buy a new pizza oven, he can use the money he is not going to be taxed with.
Tax reduction is true economic development - and for the people who really matter- the people who live and pay taxes in this city.
But Dyster -watch him and see - he has money for a governor's contest and parties on Old Falls Street, to the tune of $5.5 million.
And he will object to taking this $5.5 million away from Albany and keeping it for the people here in this city. Instead Dyster proposes to raise the taxes and cry there's a deficit.
There's $5.5 million that Albany wants to steal back from the casino, money from the little share that the city gets.
If we keep it, we solve our problems.
But Dyster says we cannot use casino money for city needs. Never shall the twain meet.
Let me use this analogy to show how ludicrous it is to say there are two separate budgets and one must be spent only on economic development.
Suppose you had two budgets, a household budget, and a windfall on the side from the casino or a rich uncle, and you're going broke and you tell your kids, "no groceries this week. I got to pay the mortgage." And they say, ‘but dad. Uncle Tony left you a million dollars.’
‘No, that’s only to be spent for gas for the car and plumbing,’ you say.
And your kids watch as the house goes into ruin; they can't get their private school tuition, no groceries.
That's what Dyster is doing here.
He is running the city budget and saying that the casino money can't benefit the city.
He is running the city with the city budget like its distressed and he's having a party on the other side with the casino money.
|Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster delivers his budget presentation that includes tax increases and layoffs. City administrator Dona Owens reads along as Dyster delivers his prepared speech.
Put the two budgets together in a logical way and fix both of them.
But he says he can't do that. It is not allowed and that’s the galling part. Dyster’s own actions show it is allowed. His spending trail proves you can define economic development matters: Police overtime, tree stumps, Isaiah 61.
The greatest economic development that could ever happen to this city is the reduction of taxes.
Imagine the headlines: "Niagara Falls lowers it taxes, welcomes new business with open arms."
Let's take casino money and lower everybody's taxes and improve the business climate.
Using the casino money to reduce taxes would be a one shot, quick deal that would make sense but strips Dyster of all his party money.
Dyster would be thinking ‘oh, my god, they're going to take my party money away from me. The money I'm going to give to consultants, to Wendel, the train station, the ice pavilion and all these cars and trucks I want to buy. They are going to take my party money away from me and I would have to do run the city like a businessman.’
He is like a guy that has a little job and also has an allowance from Aunt Mabel. He won't mix them together to pay his bills. He has decided that the money from Aunt Mabel goes for beer and marijuana. When the car payment is two payments late and the bank says ‘we will have to pull your car,’ he says life isn't fair.
That’s where Dyster is now: Life isn't fair. Its labor and the IDA and ‘everybody is against me.’
And nobody catches on.
He's having a party at everybody's expense with the casino money.
At the end of the day, we have to have a casino spending plan. We have to define what is and isn’t economic development and the first thing, in making that definition, is that we have to have loyalties to the people of this city and not raise taxes.
But Dyster has told us, ‘you can only spend the money on economic development’ yet never defined what it is.
Or he defines it willy-nilly, depending on how he feels. Today it is a golf cart path. Tomorrow it is Hard Rock concerts and festivals. The Blues Fest, that was a good time, because he's a blues fan.
Maybe if someone wanted a bluegrass festival and Dyster doesn't like bluegrass music, so that’s not economic development.
So he's not going to fund a bluegrass fest. Meantime he is blaming the deficit on the IDA, the unions. He wants to raise taxes 4.5 percent while proposing to put $4 million into a contest.
And nobody seems to catch on.
At a council meeting, when $300,000 was being asked of the council for a golf cart path, with casino money, Council Member Kristen Grandinetti said, "Mr. Mayor, should we spending money like this when there is a deficit?" and he said, "this isn't taxpayer money; this is casino money."
But if your household budget is going down the shoot and you had access to money from a rich uncle, would you say, ‘I can't use that money. That’s rich uncle money?’
No, you would put it into the household money and bail yourself out.
So Dyster is wrong.
Casino money is taxpayer money. If money is in control of the city government, it is government money. You can argue how it got there, a grant, a sale of property, business tax, sales tax, casino money, property tax, but, if it is the hands of government, it is taxpayers' money.
Yet Dyster continues to define casino money as not being taxpayer funds. He has gotten away with it and that is why he refuses to use one budget to help the other. He'd rather raise your taxes.
Dyster preaches that the twain shall never meet, but really the twain meets all the time.
Whenever he decides the twain shall meet.
It is based on his argument de jour of what constitutes economic development.
Today it is police overtime. Tomorrow it is new cars or a parking lot at city hall.
The way he spends casino money proves that economic development can be anything.
Now the budget problem gets solved by pulling back the $4 million from the governor’s contest and the $1.5 million from USA Niagara and giving it back to the people and call that economic development.
Mayor Dyster presented a horrible budget and he said it was this complicated, convoluted thing that is going to take all kinds of work.
We'll get our taxes raised and Dyster will still be
handing out consulting contracts and buying vehicles next year with casino cash.
Why should the city suffer with this horrible deficit, allegedly, and yet the party guy gets to hand out contracts and goodies to all his friends with the casino account?
And next year being an election year, he knows how he is going to spend that money.
The petitions will go out in the spring.
If someone is going to primary him, he will spend money real fast. Fix streets and plant trees. If he is not going to have a primary, he'll take his time and go through the summer spending money slowly but deliberately, fixing a street, cutting grass, cleaning the sidewalks- with casino money.
Is it fair to say that casino money is not just party money, it is his campaign fund, too?
You know contractors and engineers will write him checks. Scott Lawn will write a check to Dyster; they would be stupid not to; RED will write a check; Wendel engineering, Clark Patterson, the law firms in Buffalo. They will write checks.
The Niagara Falls Reporter proposes we stop keeping the party money separate from the sweat and toil money. The city shall not live with the hardship and the tax increases while Dyster parties along like its 1999 and he's a Prince.
He's a party guy; Hors d'oeuvres, micro beer and wine and hobnobbing with the guys in Buffalo and handing out contracts.
So who the hell are we to raise these issues? We are not supposed to say a word. But it doesn't have to be this way.
End the Dyster reign of free casino spending, take back the $5.5 million and solve the city deficit.
Then step aside and see the city prosper.
|Council member Kristen Grandinetti listens to Mayor Dyster’s proposal to raise taxes. At a previous meeting she asked about using casino money and was told by Dyster that casino money is not taxpayer money.