Resolution Expected to Pass Unanimously
Still hoping for a resolution to the gaming dispute in months, not years, Niagara Falls city lawmakers nonetheless are attempting to brace for an uncertain future by sending a message to the Dyster administration and city workers that the city needs to take action now, not wait until the roof collapses if the casino revenue doesn’t come in.
Despite piecing together a 2018 budget with scotch tape, lawmakers know their handiwork won’t stand up unless more action is taken, and it is that realization that is prompting a move to urge Mayor Paul Dyster and all the departments to find a way to cut 5 percent out their budgets during the coming year.
A resolution by newly-elected lawmaker Chris Voccio is expected to win unanimous approval at Wednesday’s council session, calling for city departments to step up and get to work shaving expenses by at least 5 percent, and more if possible.
‘If everybody does their part, we could save at least $4.5 million this year,” says veteran councilmember Andrew Touma who has returned as chairman of the council this year by unanimous vote.
Mr. Touma says he believes the council is united behind the Voccio resolution and he says it is “certainly doable, and can serve as a starting point,” noting the uncertainty facing the city with the loss of $12 million in casino revenue that is now the subject of arbitration between the state and the Seneca Nation with no resolution in sight.
“It is our intention to hold departments accountable for a 5 percent reduction in expenses in their budgets, and hopefully even more,” said Mr. Touma, adding that lawmakers hope the savings can be achieved without cutting personnel, something that could come in the not too distant future if there is no resolution of the gaming crisis.
Mr. Voccio said the resolution calling for the savings was part of the plan he outlined during his successful campaign that carried him into office last November.
“If we engage city employees to become part of the process,” says Mr. Voccio, “they will understand the predicament that we are in. An educated work force will help us get out of this situation.”
Both Councilmen Voccio and Touma understand that even if the money-savings plan is a big success, it may take even more action by the city to escape the crisis fueled at least in part by the loss of casino revenue which the city had used to balance its budgets, far beyond the economic development originally targeted for gaming cash.
Arbitration between the state and the Senecas is just getting started and it could take months or possibly longer for a decision.
“We’re hoping for months, not years, for something to break,” said Mr. Touma, adding if the arbitration drags on, the city will need to consider negotiations with the Senecas directly to try and find a way to face the reality of the lost revenue.