The NYS state comptroller criticized the City of Niagara Falls for relying on “one-shots” such as fund balance and surplus moneys in the capital projects fund to cover structural deficits during an audit covering the period between Jan. 1, 2009 and Jan. 9, 2013, a scathing summary that was not well received by Mayor Paul Dyster.
Dyster and Controller Maria Brown might not like the picture that was painted by the state comptroller back in the 2013 report, but there is more of the same for them to consider in the audit of the city released last night by Bonadio & C., LLP, certified public accountants which warns the city faces a “significant hardship” in the development of the 2016 budget in part because it used $9.3 million in fund balance to cover 2014 and 2015.
“It just confirms what I’ve been saying all along,” said Councilmember Glenn Choolokian after reviewing the Bonadio audit presented to lawmakers by the administration at last night’s council session.
“The Dyster administration has spent down its reserves and had no money available when the pipes froze and people were without water for weeks during the winter,” said Choolokian who is challenging Dyster in a Democratic primary this year. “They’ve thrown money away time and again, and have not reined in the spending no matter how bad things have gotten, and that includes on high-paid consultants and fast-talking con men looking to make a quick score.”
Among the latest audit findings:
-The city used $4.4 million of its fund balance (reserve) as a form of property tax relief to balance the 2014 budget. The Mayor elected to use another $4.9 million dollars in general fund balance in the development of the City’s 2015 budget. With the use of the $4.9 million general fund balance in 2015, the estimated general fund balance will be approximately $5.1 million.
Concern over the drop in casino revenue of $1.5 million to city coffers from 2013 to 2014 is also noted by the auditors who wrote it has created that concern “since the city has been using over $5 million in its General Fund operating budget to help offset increases in debt service payments, loss of tax revenue from the land the Seneca Niagara Casino is located on, to offset increases in public safety overtime costs in the area of the Seneca Niagara Casino and a very small portion for tax relief. If the City’s local share continues to drop, the City will not be able to pay for its Capital Projects and Equipment as ‘Pay/Go’ and may have to look at future borrowing.”
According to the audit, the city’s revenues declined about $31 million for the year to $117,052,009 while expenses decreased only slightly from $141,883,680 to $137,788,709, the main factor in the city’s “net position” for the year going down from $60.7 million in 2013 to $40 million in 2014.
In case you didn’t notice, that’s a $20 million decrease in the city’s “net position.”
Obviously, lawmakers and the Dyster administration will have their work cut out for them in trying to put together a 2016 budget given the current strain of recurring structural deficits that will only get worse if casino revenue continues to drop and the city keeps spending money it doesn’t have, something Choolokian has been preaching about for the last several years.
In a display hardly worthy of her position, Controller Brown would not give this reporter a copy of the latest public audit at last night’s meeting, saying “go get one from Choolokian.”
Whatever her problem is with this newspaper aside, she’s paid a hefty salary (more than the Buffalo and Erie County Comptrollers) to keep the city’s fiscal records in order, a job she may well keep because of her knowledge of where the bodies are buried at City Hall, much like J. Edgar Hoover did when he ran the FBI for so many years under several different presidents.