It didn’t have to be this way.
The past eight years of casino revenue spending should have ushered in an era of renewal and growth for Niagara Falls. But it didn’t.
Critics of the Reporter have accused the paper of being long on negatives and short on positives. The purpose of this column isn’t to argue for the credibility and legitimacy of the Reporter, but rather to demonstrate the good that could have been achieved through wise use of the city’s share of casino funds.
It’s a deeply ironic situation. The casino revenue was to have strengthened the city’s finances for years to come. But it’s been the abuse of those funds by the Dyster administration that has, instead, guaranteed the city’s financial troubles for years to come. The mayor spent his way through $90 million and then asked the state’s financial restructuring board to fix the problem he created.
It was the casino cash windfall that brought Dyster’s campaign supporters to the table in 2007. The results have been: a $50 million courthouse worth $30 million, $350,000 to “re-bid” the $45 million train station, $13 million ice pavilion rehabilitation, $120,000 parking study, $500,000 Isaiah 61 fire hall, millions in overtime costs, downtown “ranger” program, $150,000 to refrigerate penguins, $150,000 to bail Community Missions out of an IRS scrape, $400,000 to pave the city hall parking lot, minimum $4 million toward the train station…and well, you’ve read the litany of casino revenue waste time and again on these pages.
Imagine if the city’s share of casino revenue had been used in long-range planning for repairs and renovations to the city infrastructure. And imagine if a program called – for the sake of argument – “The Niagara Falls Infrastructure Rehabilitation and Renewal Initiative” had been planned, funded, and launched.
The “NFIRRI” (we dislike government acronyms but for the sake of this presentation we’ll play the game…it’s pronounced “nif-erie”) would address the city’s roads, water, sewer, sidewalks and trees through a plan that would bring the Water Board to the table to deal with areas of common interest: water and sewer.
Imagine that, working cooperatively with the Water Board. Why? Because just as the water and sewer lines flow beneath all city streets, so too is the city’s future linked to the proper maintenance of those same utility lines.
Imagine the “synergy” (another bureaucratic term we dislike) resulting from the city cooperating with the Water Board to plan the rehabilitation and updating of water and sewer services. Imagine the city and Water Board approaching the state and feds to say, “We have a far reaching cooperative plan to update our outdated water/sewer infrastructure. How much can you toss in the pot to get it done?”
Higher government loves nothing, if not a plan, and they’d gladly sign on to “NFIRRI” (we’re getting the hang of this acronym thing). Imagine the win-win of it all as “City of Niagara Falls and Water Board join to repair infrastructure with assistance from (plug in the name of the smiling elected state/federal officials here) using casino revenue.”
Such a program would play out across a decade or more timeframe. That’s what the Reporter considers smart, long-range, demonstrable, positive use of casino revenue.
Picture Niagara Falls as a “fixer-upper” house. Isn’t it common sense to stabilize the foundation and repair the roof before calling the interior decorator for custom wallpaper and designer rugs?
But that’s not what the Dyster administration did with the casino revenue. The administration hired consultants, paid more than a million dollars to lawyers, fired the city engineer, built a train station that has no operating budget, spent 40% too much on a courthouse, concerned itself with penguins and special interests and let the taxpayer and infrastructure take the hind end while favored employees and “the best and brightest” department heads were handed $100,000 salaries.
If the Dyster administration had taken a long-range look at the use of casino revenue with an eye toward water, sewer, roads, sidewalks, and trees the residents would be sitting on an updated infrastructure that would retain, and expand, home ownership and business.
Instead, the city is perched atop a crumbling infrastructure as it teeters on fiscal disaster.
It’s a shame, because it didn’t have to be this way.