|Mayor Paul Dyster having a great time spending taxpayer money
for the things people really want.
“Anybody but Dyster”
We didn’t make it up and neither did anyone from Niagara Falls City Councilman Glenn Choolokian’s campaign. The catch phrase popped up a couple of weeks ago after having appeared on homemade signs stuck on a few lawns out in the LaSalle neighborhood, but has since taken the city by storm.
Next week, Dyster will face his first trial by fire, the September 10 Democratic primary. Voters will have the opportunity to cast their ballot for him or Choolokian, and it is likely that whoever can get the most people to the polls will win the opportunity to face the winner of the Republican primary in November.
Clearly, the Dyster campaign knows there is a problem. That’s why the flyers, print advertising and robo-calls have been overwhelmingly negative in nature. Rather than touting Dyster’s accomplishments, they are attacking Choolokian.
They figure the strategy worked against popular former councilman Sam Fruscione in 2013 and it may again. Fruscione was accused of being sympathetic to organized crime and for delaying the all-important Hamister hotel project.
Two years later, with Fruscione long gone, the Hamister hotel project still hasn’t been built and may never be. Will the voters of Niagara Falls be gullible enough to fall for the same con again? We’ll know next week. But for now, let us quickly review the Top 10 reasons to vote for anybody but Dyster in 2015.
10. The Courthouse Debacle
Dyster took office in January of 2008. His first order of business was to fire Robert Curtis, the one man at City Hall who knew the ins and outs of the courthouse project. Dyster turned the project over to his good friends at LiRo Engineers. David Jaros, a friend of the mayor, was the company contact, overseeing the courthouse construction. Li Ro was paid $14,500 per month for the 18 months of construction. The courthouse project eventually totaled out at a staggering $46.5 million.
The courthouse came in at 30 percent over its original estimated cost and the mayor cut the ribbon in June 2009 on a building that blended numerous construction defects with a breathtaking sticker price.
The mayor’s pal David Jaros no longer works for LiRo, and is now working for another engineering company, Clark Patterson Lee Engineers. Dyster hired his friend's company at a minimum cost of $94,000 per year. The contract will automatically be renewable for a second year when its first year ends.
9. The ongoing train station fiasco
Dyster was so pleased with his efforts to needlessly squander taxpayer money at the courthouse that he followed the project up with a crazy idea to build a $44 million train station that, according to Amtrak standards, will be ten times too large for the fewer than 100 passengers who get on or off of a train in Niagara Falls each day.
Thus far, there have been three groundbreakings for the project, which is behind schedule and over budget.
8. The botched recycling program
Startup costs of $2.3 million to buy and deliver some 10,000 new blue (64 gallon) refuse totes and (96 gallon) recycling green totes and $78,000 a year for city employees to oversee the program came at a time when the recycling industry is slumping badly.
Although Dyster claimed the program would save the city $500,000 annually, it quickly became apparent that the city would lose money. 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 the resignation of Donna Owens who Dyster credited for creating the plan.
And, in 2015, the first full year city residents will get to enjoy the fruits of Dyster's garbage collecting scheme, 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.
As with so many of his ideas, Dyster’s recycling plan turned out to be garbage.
7. Tax and spend
Although Niagara Falls homeowners pay the highest property taxes of any municipality in the state, and the city has received nearly $200 million in casino revenue over the years, Dyster has proposed property tax increases on a regular basis. In 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 he sought to balance the budget on the backs of homeowners and businesses here.
The result has been businesses closing and homeowners selling, often at a loss, in order to move as far away from Niagara Falls as possible.
6. The Hamister deal, obviously
Now nearly two years behind schedule, the Hamister hotel deal may be the greatest con ever foisted on the people of Niagara Falls. Do-nothing Buffalo developer Mark Hamister has yet to even close on the $1.5 million property Dyster gifted him for a token $100,000 gratuity, the project has been downgraded on numerous occasions and cost estimates have risen to $36 million, despite the fact that an identical hotel that recently opened in Amerherst only cost $18 million to build. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Buffalo really needs to look into this.
5. Move along, no politics here
In 2008, barely six months into his first term in office, Dyster appointed his campaign manager Craig Touma’s wife, Diane Vitello, to the position of City Court judge following Judge Robert Restaino’s removal from the bench by the state Board of Judicial Review.
No other candidates were interviewed for the $100,000 a year position.
The Touma family remains very grateful to Dyster.
4. We’re going to the dogs
Late last year, Dyster proposed spending $3.2 million to build an animal shelter here so he could cut loose the SPCA, which had handled animal control in the city for decades.
He went so far as to go out and purchase a van, at a cost of $58,000, specifically designed for animal control operations. In the end he said the whole thing had been a silly misunderstanding, and went ahead and signed a contract with the SPCA anyway.
The $198,000 a year contract is well over double what the city had been paying previously.
3. Failing to fill city engineer position
Throughout Dyster’s reign of error, the city engineer’s office has boasted a revolving door. There have been no fewer than four city engineers during his eight years in office, and months have often passed between one quitting or getting fired and the next victim showing up.
This has required the hiring of outside engineering consulting firms to supervise major construction projects and take care of mundane details, often on a retainer basis.
The use of outside engineering firms has cost the city millions over the eight years Dyster has been in office, and has resulted in excruciating cost overruns on many projects here.
2. Hiring his political buddies
You know their names. Brook D'Angelo, Ryan Undercoffer and Nick Melson. All have been given City Hall jobs and regular paychecks when the actual purpose of their hiring has been to ensure that Dyster has a full time group of seasoned political professionals close by in his quest for a third term in office.
Never before have so many done so little for so much. And whether Dyster wins or loses, city taxpayers will be stuck with them for years to come.
1. Frozen pipes
The frozen water main on 72nd Street has been well documented, and what was once a $300,000 problem will now cost taxpayers more than $1 million to put right. Had Dyster done the right thing in the first place, the city would have saved considerable cash and nearly 200 LaSalle households would have been spared two nightmarish winters with no running water.
“Anybody but Dyster.”
It’s an idea, it seems, whose time has come.