Touma Unsure What’s Next If User Fee Fails

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Niagara Falls City Council

 

By: Tony Farina

Will the Niagara Falls City Council go along with a proposal from outgoing Mayor Paul Dyster to enact a garbage user fee to help close a more than $5 million deficit in next year’s budget?

Residents will have a chance to voice their opinion on Wednesday night in council chambers at a public hearing scheduled to begin at 6, and Council Chairman Andrew Touma admits he doesn’t know what’s going to happen after that hearing and whether or not lawmakers will even take a vote on enacting the $234.75 user fee that Dyster would like to include in his last budget proposal.

“I just don’t know,” said Touma about Wednesday’s public hearing and possible vote.  “We’ll just have to wait and see but as I’ve said, it is time for lawmakers to make the tough decisions and do the job they were elected to do.  If not a user fee, like many other municipalities have enacted to raise much-needed revenue, then what?  Massive layoffs, a major tax increase, possible service reductions, or all of the above?  The rubber has hit the road, and the future of casino payments is very much up in the air and can no longer be counted on to bail out the budget.  Even with state help, the situation is grim.”

Touma, like many other observers, is disappointed a lesser fee wasn’t enacted last year to help raise revenue, and he says at this point the city has reached the breaking point and must take action, one way or another, to close the approximate $5.5 million budget hole or face the consequences that could include the appointment by the state of a control board.  

The council needs three of its five members voting yes to approve the user fee, and the two Republican members of the council, Chris Voccio and Kenny Tompkins, who is up for re-election in November, are unlikely yes votes with Voccio on the record as saying it is time for city employees to come to the table to help deal with the budget deficit.

Whatever happens, whoever wins the mayoral election in November will be taking over a city struggling to stay afloat financially after years of administrations and lawmakers passing the buck and relying on casino dollars and reserve funds to balance the budget instead of making tough political decisions on reducing costs and raising new money, decisions that now have to be made or else.   

It may not be a pretty picture, but it is the picture lawmakers and the next administration are facing and for a city hoping to join the development renaissance that has helped revive Buffalo — along with millions from the state — the time for making tough political decisions has arrived.

 

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