There's one major problem with the Niagara Falls casino cash: there's no spending plan.
The city has never had a casino-spending plan, not at any time during the past six and a half years since Mayor Paul Dyster has been mayor.
Yes, nearly $180 million dollars of gaming funds have been spent without a plan.
Any meaningful casino spending plan of course wouldn't just be a laundry list of things the administration wants to spend money on. The plan should be detailed, a document that lays out rules for expenditures, regulations noting limitations of program expenditures. The plan would be in accord with state law and carried out with total transparency in real time.
Today, we learn of casino spending on two occasions: 1 – when a suggested expenditure goes from the administration to the city council and 2 – when the check is cut and money moves.
That is unacceptable, an affront to good government, an insult to city residents who lost 52 prime downtown acres to make the casino possible.
Having said that, this column is not intended to debate the pros and cons of having a casino downtown. The casino is here, the cash is here. It's time for the city administration to produce a viable, transparent plan for handling casino funds.
This year casino funds have gone toward employee overtime, tree stump removal, roofing, consultants, police equipment, city vehicles, snow removal equipment, nonprofit agencies, garbage totes, office file cabinets, street paving, pot hole repair and more.
One can argue whether these expenditures were good or bad, right or wrong, but all these expenditures were made without a plan of any sort.
The fact that Niagara Falls has no plan is going to end badly. While the city fails to plan for today, they aren't even considering how to plan for tomorrow, a day in the uncertain future when casino cash is reduced or possibly even stopped.
Nothing lasts forever. How can we imagine that the casino windfall will never end?
Today, this city is living high on the casino cash hog. But, with economics being what they are - and with casinos opening up everywhere - - there are now 17 casinos within range of Niagara Falls - and with casinos as businesses being downgraded by Moody's to "negative," how certain are we of the casino's future?
What goes up must comes down. When it does how will Niagara Falls balance its budget?
In times of surplus, running government is a joy. When good fiscal times are rolling, things appear bright.
Let's not forget that our current fiscal situation is entirely balanced on the back of the gaming industry, and as the gaming industry goes so goes Niagara Falls.
So, let us ask ourselves one simple question: if the casino cash were to crash tomorrow, or even take a substantial hit, what would, what could, the city of Niagara Falls do to remain solvent?
A prudent spending plan is in order. The plan should be one where it is assumed that casino cash won't last forever and that every expenditure is made carefully- as if it might be our last.