Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster's ill conceived garbage recycling plan, conceived secretly and then announced by and portrayed as the brainchild of City Administrator Donna Owens, was a disaster from the start. Small businesses that had been used to regular garbage collection were thrown out of the program, residents were confused about how they were supposed to fit a week's worth of garbage into a small, city issued, 64 gallon tote and Owens was pretty much thrown under the bus by Dyster, who credited or blamed her for coming up with the scheme in the first place.
The one bright spot in the fiasco was that Dyster and Owens insisted that increased recycling would bring down the cost of garbage collection in the city. They even mentioned a figure. They mentioned it over and over in fact.
The city would save $500,000 a year, they said.
The recycling program went into effect of August of 2014. Small businesses faced increased costs and residents faced fines and other sanctions for not complying. Outraged taxpayers, led by Third Street businessman and longtime Dyster supporter Craig Avery, called publicly for Owens' resignation.
But the ruckus died down. The city was saving a half a million dollars annually after all, money that could be used to buy new police cruisers, help fund the library deficit. A thousand different uses for the money could be found in this cash strapped, woe begotten place called Niagara Falls.
Except for one sad fact. Dyster and Owens' promises of savings to the most overtaxed taxpayers in the entire country were pure garbage, suitable only for insertion into one of the undersized 64 gallon totes they foisted upon residents.
Knowledgeable sources extremely close to the waste management situation in Niagara Falls told the Niagara Falls Reporter over the weekend that, rather than the $500,000 savings promised by Dyster and Owens, the program would actually cost a half a million dollars more than what the city was paying previously.
In 2013, the last full year prior to Dyster's bright idea, the city paid Modern Inc. of Lewiston $2.9 million for trash collection.
In 2014, with the recycling scheme going into effect in August, the cost to city residents was $3.1 million.
And, in 2015, the first full year city residents will get to enjoy the fruits of Dyster's garbage collecting intellect, reliable projections show that taxpayers will be socked with a whopping $3.6 million to $3.8 million tab.
And that doesn't even count the $2.3 million the city paid for the ridiculously small, micro chipped totes in the first place.
"The Dyster administration told everybody what they wanted to get this thing through," said City Councilman Glenn Choolokian. "Typical Dyster. Whatever they do, it always costs us more money and never benefits the taxpayer. We are the only city that can't do garbage right. A service that has been done for centuries. We can't get it right here."
Asked if Dyster's expensive garbage collection program benefitted the city in any way, Councilman Bob Anderson was even more adamant.
"No, with a large N and a large O," Anderson said. "Totally a lack of communication and education. Who did he have to represent the city behind closed doors? It's scary. Our streets and sidewalks need repairs, trees are falling, our garbage is costing more per ton to collect and businesses got cut off from service."
City Council Chairman Craig Touma, once widely perceived as a Dyster ally, said he was disappointed.
"The council is disappointed in this situation as well. We are not happy where we are; we are hoping we can recoup some of the money the administration promised us. Time will tell."
Touma said that promises by the Dyster administration have made the process more difficult than it needed to be.
"There was so much information presented to the council and public and it would change like the wind, it would change all the time," he said. "Will we save $500,000? I don't know. This contract is (likely) going to cost us more than what it cost us in the past. Even if we shaved off $200,000 or $300,000 … we might be $200,000 or $300,000 over what we paid last year. We must recoup that money (through people recycling more and throwing out less refuse), in order to get anywhere close to curbing the increases."
One thing is for certain – The poorly planned scheme by Dyster to implement recycling in Niagara Falls has resulted in confusion, increased costs and more tax dollars squandered.
For what, you may ask. Because that would certainly be your right. The problem is that there is nobody anywhere who can answer you. Dyster, who will be running for a third term in November, gets the shakes when asked to justify needless spending in a city that cannot even afford to provide basic services.
Nor will you get an answer from Donna Owens, the alleged mastermind of the garbage plan, who has been playing the role of the Invisible Woman since the debacle first started generating headlines and causing controversy last summer.
Like the $46 million train station, the $2.5 million Underground Railroad exhibit, the Niagara Experience Center, the $50 million courthouse project and other Dyster initiatives that have hurt more than helped the city, the recycling program constitutes a poor idea, badly executed.
Still, he retains the backing of the Buffalo interests that have bankrolled him since he was a rookie City Council member back at the turn of the century, and his war chest remains impressive.
Despite the growing public sentiment against him, the possibility that the rapidly aging boy wonder might still be the mayor in 2020 cannot be dismissed.
And that's a terrifying prospect for the few remaining taxpayers who will still be living here then.