Anello Says City’s Spending Level Not Sustainable in Niagara Falls

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By: Tony Farina

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent gloomy budget presentation sounds a little like it could be coming from the mayor or future mayors of Niagara Falls, or from Buffalo or other cities with high-paid public sector workforces.

De Blasio’s tax revenues are up but even de Blasio grudgingly concedes the rising costs of labor agreements are hurting the budget big time, just like it does in Niagara Falls and the other cities.

The recent resignations of the fire and police leaders — who were both making more than $100,000 — in order to return to higher paying union jobs and eventually boost their pensions is a clear sign that while the Niagara Falls median household income is less than $32,000, the public-sector workforce is doing pretty good.  

Former Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Anello, who still can be heard discussing local issues on WJJL-1440 on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a. m., does not engage in attack politics but his assessment of the city’s financial difficulties clearly connects with New York City’s plight and that of other cities in the same boat.

“We have a spending level that is not sustainable,” said Anello in commenting during a recent interview about the Niagara Falls budget problems made even worse by the loss of casino revenue during the recent crisis between the state and the Seneca Nation.  The state has won an arbitration ruling but payments have not resumed as of yet, and there are unofficial reports of some kind of meeting on Feb. 19th involving all the parties. 

“There are really two choices for the next mayor,” said Anello.  “Either cut services or raise taxes, and both affect taxpayers.  We’re still waiting to hear what these mayoral and council candidates have to say, and frankly, even Jesus Christ as mayor would need three council members to work with,” something Anello didn’t have during his mayoral years from 2003 – 2007.

Still, Anello left office with an $8.5 million budget surplus and $38 million in casino cash even though the cut from casino revenue was less than the 25 percent it has been in recent years.    

“We should have been using the casino cash for things like infrastructure repair, economic development, equipment upgrades, and downtown demolition,” says Anello, saying opening up space for new projects is something that is badly needed to stimulate business and improve neighborhoods.

Instead, as we have reported numerous times, the Dyster Administration and City Council have used about $9 million a year of casino cash for the last several years to fill budget holes and when the slot money stopped, the city was left buried in red ink, saved only by a state loan and hope for the money to start flowing again.

When Anello was mayor, he said many of his efforts to stimulate business were blocked by political forces lined up against him, mentioning especially the state’s USA Development which wouldn’t go along with buildings higher than four stories, the kind of activity that would set the table for more building activity.

But rather than looking back, Anello said the city needs to develop a 10-year spending plan

Anello says the city absolutely needs a property reassessment so that all taxpayers can pay their fair share and also needs to address public sector work rules and fringe benefits because “some of these contracts are more than we can afford.”

The city’s former chief executive also believes the tax rate for residential and non-residential properties should be the same, ending the two-tiered system with different rates for different types of property.

As of this writing, there are three announced candidates for mayor and several candidates for two council seats.  The primary petition process will begin later this month under the election reforms passed this year in Albany, meaning we’ll be hearing more and more from these prospective candidates sooner rather than later this election year.

But Anello said it will be politically difficult for candidates to be honest about what needs to be done to fix the years of bad fiscal management and still win an election because the action that is needed is painful to everybody.

That’s the challenge the candidates will face, particularly with the uncertainty about the casino cash, the current and growing structural imbalance in the budget, and the fast-approaching year of renewal (2023) for the contentious gaming compact.

The tough decisions on taxes and services has been something that Niagara Falls elected officials have been ducking for years.  It now appears that the day of reckoning is here and the new slate of leaders, from the mayor on down, must have the will and the courage to work together to establish a long-term plan with or without casino cash.

You can tune in to WJJL every Tuesday and Thursday morning to hear Vince Anello, public officials, and concerned citizens weigh in on the challenges ahead.  It will take people working together to get things moving in the right direction, and Vince is probably right.  Even Jesus Christ as mayor will need three of the five council members working with him to get things done.

 

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