Sparks are expected to fly tonight at the Niagara County Courthouse when county legislators take up a pair of resolutions authored by the Niagara Falls-based Democratic minority that put the battle over Seneca Niagara Casino funds front-and-center.
One resolution demands the county's share of casino cash be reallocated to include Niagara Falls—despite the Cataract City receiving 20 times as much as the rest of the county every year—while a second resolution calls for the censure and condemnation of Republican Majority Leader Dick Updegrove of Lockport.
Both are expected to fail.
At issue is a resolution passed Dec. 9 that allocated the county's share of casino revenues—which are projected to amount to less than $1 million this year—to Niagara County's 12 towns and the cities of North Tonawanda and Lockport for tax relief and community development, while excluding the City of Niagara Falls.
Republican leaders in the county legislature contended that language in the state legislation that divvied up the casino's slot machine revenues between the state and host communities provided for Niagara Falls in one section and the county outside the City of Niagara Falls in a another, separate section.
In contrast to the $1 million the entire county receives in casino cash, the City of Niagara Falls receives between $18 -$20 million every year.
Democratic Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso and Legislator Mark Grozio nevertheless want Niagara Falls to get a portion of the county share.
The Upstate New York Gaming and Economic Development Act, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law in July 2013, seems to bear out the Republican majority's argument.
That law's Subdivision 3 allocates substantial funds to Niagara Falls, while Subdivision 3a of the same law gives a separate allocation to the county based on its population outside the City of Niagara Falls.
Virtuoso, Grozio, and their minority caucus contend that, despite the Subdivision 3a funds being allocated only based upon the approximately 170,000 county residents living outside Niagara Falls, the city should still receive part of those funds—despite already receiving 20 times as much under Subdivision 3.
Republican legislators stand firmly behind the majority leader, and agree with the decision to exclude Niagara Falls from calculations.
"This is a shameful attempt at a money-grab by Niagara Falls politicians," Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, said, pointing to the language of Cuomo's Upstate New York Gaming and Economic Development Act.
The challenge to Updegrove's plan doesn't pass muster with Republican town supervisors contacted by the Niagara Falls Reporter
"What's at stake here is fundamental fairness for the rest of the county, where taxpayers pay for so many of the social costs associated with operating a casino," said Supervisor Dan Engert, R-Somerset. As the leader of the county's least populous town, Engert noted his constituents are not expecting to receive a particularly large slice of the casino revenues, but deserved to be compensated for the expenses—like social service costs associated with the gambling industry—borne by county taxpayers.
Updegrove said he had no regrets in bringing the December budget resolution that allocated the casino dollars to county residents outside Niagara Falls, adding Virtuoso's resolutions amounted to an "effort to distract from the failed leadership of Niagara Falls' elected representatives."
"When you consider that Niagara Falls has received nearly $190 million in casino revenues since 2003, the Niagara County Democrats' effort to pick the pockets of taxpayers in Lockport and the Town of Niagara is agitating," Updegrove said, noting that the county's projected casino receipts for 2015 come in at less than $1 million, while the City of Niagara Falls is receiving, on average, $20 million per year. "Niagara Falls politicians can assert that their constituencies are victims to pass the blame for their own failed policies."
Meanwhile, what is the City of Niagara Falls spending its $190 million on? A partial listing of expenditures by the City of Niagara Falls includes:
• $2.2 million for trash totes
• $1.5 million to subsidize the state for the conference center and parties and events on Old Falls Street
• $304,000 for planned golf course cart paths
• $521,000 to support part time jobs and engineering consultants
• $500,000 to the nonprofit Isaiah 61 for their failed housing and reuse store project
• $250,000 for a roof on the golf course clubhouse
• $6,200 for Planning Department office rugs and drapes.