Presented in the interest of helping voters to decide whether to reelect Mayor Paul Dyster for another term this year.
Mayor Dyster made an appearance on the Vince Anello show February 4 as he sat with Anello and took calls for an hour, 10 to 11am on WJJL radio.
He discussed a wide range of topics and in a sense the forum revealed a glimpse of what the Mayor believes is important and what he has done and is currently engaged in trying to accomplish.
For those who missed the show we believe we can capture the essence of the Dyster presentation thusly: Things in Niagara Falls are excellent and getting better.
When a caller pointed out that Niagara Falls, NY is a disaster compared to Niagara Falls, Ontario, the mayor said the success of Niagara Falls, Ontario is limited "to a three block area... I'm a proud American... where we are today is not where we'll be in five years."
The next caller told the mayor "I'm a proud American too but why does our city stink? I walked more than three blocks from the Canadian downtown and it was safe. It's scary in downtown Niagara Falls NY."
The mayor told her Niagara Falls NY was on the upswing and named hotels which are being built downtown, including the Hamister hotel which he claimed will break ground this June.
The mayor said long range plans call for downtown "to have a glitzy core surrounded by a park."
Another caller pressed the mayor for answers regarding the new trash and recycling contract regarding what will and won't be picked up by the trash hauler, Modern Disposal Corp.. The mayor said the program was a major success, despite some rollout problems.
"We knew it would be hard... It was long overdue for environmental reasons... We'll get through it... The majority of people are happy," he said.
He added that whatever residents cannot fit inside their 64 gallon refuse tote may not be left in a garbage bag on the ground.
"Violators will be fined," said the mayor.
Prior to the Mayor's new trash plan, Niagara Falls residents could dispose of as much garbage as they wished in bags or cans. The plan reversed standard sizes of garbage totes - making the refuse tote smaller -- 64 gallons then the recycling tote (96 gallons.)
Niagara Falls is the only municipality in the region whose refuse totes are smaller than recycling totes and where residents are permitted only one 64 gallon tote. Consequently, residents are permitted to dispose of the smallest amount of refuse of any municipality in the region despite paying among the highest taxes.
Dyster initially called this a cost savings measure, but the actual expenses of the new trash plan apparently will cost about $500,000 more per year than before the trash plan was implemented. This was caused in large part on Dyster's insistence on eliminating businesses that had service for years and leaf pickup, something residents had always had.
Once these were put back into the trash plan, the price spiked.
Dyster blamed the council for the confusion, saying the council failed to pass the trash ordinance quickly enough, hamstringing the program rollout.
Another caller noted the drop in casino revenue - it went from $21.7 in 2011 to an anticipated $18.7 million in 2014, and asked the mayor what he planned to do about accommodating these tumbling numbers into a city budget that appears out of control. The mayor seemed to bristle a little at the question and said, "We have a lot of discretion on how to spend the funds and we can adjust as we go along."
Other topics came up between calls.
About 40 parking meters will be springing up in the downtown tourism corridor.
Mayor Dyster told Anello that "we're close to getting hardware and a company."
The mayor has been working with Desman & Associates, parking consultants, to design the plan for several years. Desman will be paid an additional $95,000 to supervise the bid process to select an outside company to manage the 40 meters and collect the money.
There is no solid indication that 40 meters will turn a profit for the city after the consultants and the company that manages the meters are paid. At one point it was suggested that a new city employee would need to be hired to work with the company that will manage the 40 meters potentially making this a net revenue loss.
There's been controversy over possible plans to turn the YMCA building into a 100 bed homeless shelter which some object to based on how that may impact the adjacent business district, and the fact that there is not a homeless problem in Niagara Falls which requires an additional 100 rooms, which suggests that the goal will be to bring in people in need of welfare type services and aiding them to relocate to Niagara Falls adding to the Medicaid and welfare expenses paid for by county residents.
The mayor said, "I'm a Democrat and that means showing compassion for the less fortunate. I never had to sleep on the street. If that's the highest use for that building then God bless them."
The mayor characterized the state's efforts to build winter boat dock facilities and a fueling station for the Maid of the Mist at the site of the old Schoellkopf Power Plant on the American side of the river "a military style project" in that is was performed so quickly with such precision. He said it was critical that Maid of the Mist retain the operating rights on the American side of the river. He credited USA Niagara for making the project possible and said Maid of the Mist had "an extraordinarily strong year."
A combination of elected officials including Gov. Cuomo, Mayor Dyster, then State Sen George Maziarz, US Sen. Charles Schumer and others worked to prevent Hornblower Cruises, the largest boat tour operator in North America, from having a chance to bid on providing boat tours on the New York side, as the company now does on the Ontario side, as well as the Statue of Liberty and Alcatraz Island cruises out of San Francisco.
Hornblower Cruises CEO Terry MacRae offered New York State $100 million more than what Maid of the Mist is now paying over the life of the 30 year lease, but military-like efforts kept the Maid lease secure in New York.
In Ontario, Hornblower pays 22.5 percent of gross boat tour sales to the Niagara Parks Commission after winning a competitive bid and ousting Maid of the Mist, the longtime operators on the Canadian side. Maid of the Mist pays eight percent in New York.
Paying about one third of what competitive bidding produced may have assisted Maid of the Mist in having a successful year.
As the show wrapped up, Mayor Dyster said his "three priorities" were "housing, economic development and quality of life."
After the show technically went off the air, somehow the microphone remained live and listeners heard an exchange between Anello and Dyster that neither man apparently knew was being heard by listeners.
Dyster said he would have liked to have come on the show sooner but could not because the budget was late and he did not want to appear to be "fiddling while Rome was burning."
Anello said, "I've been critical of the trash program and of the budget process but what I've done most is attack (Council member Glenn) Choolokian".
After these comments were made, the microphone was apparently shut off and the show ended.