by Sam Archie
Since early June, I have had the pleasure of knocking on many residents’ doors to introduce myself and gather signatures. I’ve been received with overwhelming support. At the same time, I’ve received a number of messages from residents. Two themes have emerged: They’re tired of money being wasted and they are fed up that this wasteful spending is not being questioned. Another popular frustration centered on jobs offered to family and friends. Some even asked why I would put myself out there in light of this mess. My answer is that I am running because I also am tired of the lack of accountability and transparency that is prevalent at city hall.
The two incumbents running for re-election have been there a collective 18 years. During this time, we have received $210 million in casino funds. How has it been spent? It seems like every year it evaporates. When the city voted to form a water authority, it lowered the city budget from $89 million to $69 million (approx.). However, over the last 10 years, we’ve watched as this budget has increased to upwards of $102 million (approx.). What do we have to show for this money? Are our parks, streets, or public safety any better? This is by no means a reflection on the hard-working men and woman who work for fire, police, or the Department of Public Works. This is about accountability, and transparent spending. Where does this money go?
We are facing tough times here in Niagara Falls. The state’s financial restructuring board, like the city’s now-disbanded financial advisory board, made many recommendations to save money. There has been talk of reassessments and charging garbage fees. One recommendation has been to consolidate departments under Community Development or Economic Development.
People speak of the city having a spending problem. I say they don’t have any problem spending. What they have is a problem taking a conservative approach to finances, even with the casino dollars on hold. Our city administration continues to spend with no consideration of what may happen in the near future.
There needs to be an immediate freeze on spending. City departments need to consider options to reduce their bottom line budget numbers. Unfortunately, I believe we are looking at a “do more with less” financial situation. While this may not be popular with some employees, I believe an immediate end to stipends should be instituted. I’ve worked in industry and the public sector for years. Each job had a description, of which the very last line on each one read, “and any other duties assigned by management.” When that happens at city hall, a stipend is paid.
Here is another example of questionable spending. The police budget has a line item for $140,000.00 to pay for the Rangers in the downtown area. Now, the Rangers are citizens who work to provide tourists with directions and point out attractions and other details to them. If problems arise, they still need to call 911. My question: Why is this money taken out of the police budget? Shouldn’t this be an expense covered by the bed tax? This funding could be re-allocated to add another police officer or two and offer some relief to the overworked police staff.
There are other items that need attention, yet the council majority just goes along with the administration’s recommendations.