The Niagara Falls Financial Advisory Panel has begun its work.
The Panel was formed by the council following a budget process that Mayor Paul Dyster delivered 37 days late and which featured a budget gap of nearly $5 million, a 6.5 percent rise in spending and a property tax increase, while, at the same time, the city enjoys a $18 million a year casino cash bonanza that Mayor Dyster uses as sort of an alternate universe budget - used for all sorts of motley uses without ever any written spending plan - sometimes appearing to be spent entirely by caprice and often announced suddenly to the council - but with admonitions of great urgency for immediate passage.
The panel might hope to address the tremendous contradiction in the above paragraph, of the dichotomy of rank and file residents taxed to the straining point, with, still, a deficit of $5 million, while tens of millions of casino cash are strewn lavishly to the select. For measurable results some $100 million plus of casino cash might just as well have been cast to the four winds.
Go try to find it and where it has benefited the people as opposed to the select.
The original resolution creating the panel, sponsored by Council Chairman Touma, prevents panel members from accessing "confidential" finance records. In our world any serious audit or fiscal review must be conducted with the up-front promise of opening all finance records to inspection.
Instead Niagara Falls will have a panel of seven citizens appointed to review the city's non confidential finance records in the hope they will find a way to repair the city's dire financial picture.
Ahead for the panel's consideration is a city whose deficit fluctuates and remains unsettled and is not transparent; the city debt is not posted online; the "live" city budget is not posted online; the bed tax account is not online; the casino revenue interest account and it's expenditures are not online; the banks the city does business with and the investment actions and debt management techniques are black holes with no finance details escaping.
In a cash-strapped city with a history of unfortunate, costly and, at times, disastrous financial decision - yet with a huge windfall of casino cash - which is never used to provide relief for everyday residents - a panel to make recommendations on how to spend tax revenue and casino dollars might be helpful.
They should of course have access to all records. That would be more helpful.
Mayor Paul Dyster has said he is expecting the panel to dive into the city's troubled financial picture. In a way, the very creation of the panel implies that finance management - normally the job of the mayor and his well paid top department heads - has failed this city.
The panel, confirmed by the council, is Janet Baker Scott, Doreen O'Connor, Lawrence H. Cook II, Samuel P. Granieri, Carmen A. Granto, Frank A. Soda and Dr. Jay Walker.
Their first meeting is today.