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Dyster's Big-Spending Record Pushing City Near Bankruptcy

By Mike Hudson

The Council Majority is trying to curb Mayor Dyster's reckless spending habits. Back row: Bob Anderson, Paul Dyster. Front row (L-R): Glenn Choolokian, Kristen Grandinetti, Sam Fruscione, and Charles Walker.
Mayor Dyster thought the casino money would never end. Some $50 million disappeared without a trace other than a constant flushing sound.
Special interests were thrilled when Mayor Dyster was reelected in 2011. From Buffalo to Albany, they would turn Niagara Falls into their personal ATM machine.
Paul Dyster said he came to drain the swamp and eliminate the alligators from city government. Dyster (above) is depicted swimming with campaign
contributors, Albany interests and Buffalo consultants.
The best way to get cash flow is to raise taxes, according to Dyster.

With about $60 million of casino revenue owed to the city by the Seneca Nation of Indians, a financial disaster of immense proportions is rapidly approaching Mayor Paul Dyster’s City Hall office: bankruptcy.

Things are so bad and the future is looking so grim that insiders are saying draconian job cuts and a reduction in city services across the board may not even make a dent in the problem.

But Mayor Dyster has no one to blame but himself.

After all, it was this mayor who spent and spent and spent some more as the money left over from the Anello administration and the casino revenue burned a hole in his pocket.

At the heart of the reckless spending spree was the Municipal Building, a white elephant that ended up costing taxpayers more than $50 million after starting out with a $20 million price tag.

When Dyster took office he immediately fired a competent city engineer, Bob Curtis, and left the job open as the courthouse construction project proceeded. With no city employee acting as watchdog on the scene, he turned over that duty to LiRo Engineers of Buffalo and the entire project ran wildly out of control.

Change order after change order was delivered to City Hall and every additional expense was promptly paid by the city to the Ciminelli Construction Co. Building materials were constantly being downgraded, which resulted in a far cheaper building than was contracted for, and has caused problems since.

With Ciminelli doing the building, LiRo providing the oversight, the project became what we now see on Main Street: a nauseating monstrosity that cost a mysterious 40 percent too much. It utterly failed to be the “transformational project” it was hyped as; the project that would bring Main Street back from the dead.

But it may have a distinction all its own, as the most costly courthouse per square foot built anywhere in the United States. Reeds Construction Data's study of costs in 25 American cities revealed that courthouses and jails, even in expensive-to-build places like New York City, were built for under $275 per square foot. Our courthouse, based on public records, cost $415 per square foot.

Records also show that both LiRo and Ciminelli were major Dyster campaign contributors.

Did someone say, “train station?” Coming in at a whopping $45 million, according to conservative estimates, the station will sit off Main Street not too far from the Municipal Building. It currently has a funding gap of at least $3 million. That’s a gap the city must fill because the city doesn’t have the $3 million.

And worse, the Dyster administration has no idea what the costs are going to be for operation and maintenance once the station is open. City planner Tom DeSantis told the council in November that he had no way of calculating the operation and maintenance until the building is completed.

The rents from Amtrak and other tenants, according to DeSantis, "will not, in all likelihood, cover the costs of operating the station. There will probably be a deficit. What that deficit is, I don't know," he said.

Who builds that way?

And, once the station opens, will anyone even ride the train?

On the Canadian side, Via Rail has reduced hours of operation, moved into automated ticket selling, and is reducing trips from Niagara Falls, Ont., to Toronto. The future of train travel is bleak just at the time when our lavish train station is scheduled to come on line.

What taxpayers will see is a nearly vacant $45 million structure with a handful of daily riders, no foot traffic, vacant, unoccupied storefronts inside, and an operational overhead of at least $1 million per year that will further cripple the city budget.

Connected to the train station is the Underground Railroad Interpretive Center project. Begun five years ago, the Center was set to open in 2012, but, for reasons that remain unknown and unclear to this day, the opening has been set back to coincide with the opening of the train station sometime in 2014.

So the Underground Railroad Interpretive Center is two years behind schedule, at least one contractor is suing the city, there are no exhibition materials on site, there is no public plan as to who and how it will operate once it is open, no plan as to who foots the operating costs, and no word as to how the $350,000 in casino funds have been spent by the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Commission.

In other words, a typical Dyster administration project.

Then there’s the more than $200,000 that the administration set aside for the LiRo Engineering Company to study and implement storefronts on Old Falls Street. But it would be easier to sum the whole mess up by saying the stores are not open, the work is not complete, and there are no opening dates for any stores remotely in sight after three years of talks, studies, and billing.

Which brings to mind the now infamous lighting situation on Pine Avenue in front of the Como Restaurant. After four painful years of back and forth on consulting and design of the lights, the switch may actually be flipped sometime this spring. Anticlimactic would be far too weak a word to describe this ridiculous situation.

All of which is not to say that Dyster can’t get things done quickly and cheaply when he wants to.

For a mere $14,000, for example, he had the street he resides on, Orchard Parkway, declared historic. Yes, he hired consultant and campaign contributor Clinton Brown to file the paperwork and do the study that now allows homeowners such as himself to avail themselves of special federal consideration with regards to tax write offs on home improvements.

Worth noting is that council member Kristen Grandinetti, a strong Dyster supporter, and Rick Zucco, a Dyster supporter and city attorney, live on Orchard Parkway as well.

And how many are aware that alleged “city planner” Tom DeSantis and Dyster are currently using Greenway and city money for a $200,000 “city parks inventory and study?" Yes, consultants have been hired to study the city’s parks, take an “inventory” and write a report telling us what it is we have in our parks.

The mayor built basketball courts behind the Main Street Library. Once again, he found it necessary to hire LiRo Engineering and it turned into another needlessly costly adventure. As if the cost weren’t enough to complain about, LiRo got the dimensions of the courts wrong. And then LiRo installed backboard supports that were unsafe with the metal support poles in the way of any player drizzling under the basket. Right now, the city is trying to find money to install pads on the supports so no players are injured.

Why does Dyster keep spending city dollars on LiRo’s costly mistakes?

The John Daly/Pine Avenue project is on the verge of having its plug pulled due to the foot-dragging of the Dyster administration. After 10 years, the three-phase project is not even through its first phase: yet another example of where the dynamic duo of Dyster-DeSantis is behind schedule and over budget. Yet Buffalo consultants and engineers get paid for every change order these two make.

In Jayne Park, on Cayuga Island, we have a truly unique situation where the residents are literally living in fear of the Mayor and DeSantis coming to their neighborhood and devaluing their heavily taxed properties.

Hard to believe but since 2009, city hall has been trying to use city and Greenway money to construct a parking lot, light standards, restrooms, picnic grounds and a canoe launch on the modest but serene green space known as Jayne Park. Residents have appeared at city council meetings, public hearings and passed petitions over the past four years, but Dyster and DeSantis, again for reasons no one else knows, are determined to put $290,000 of consulting money into the pockets of their friends while the Cayuga Island community can go to hell.

On top of all that, Dyster proposed raising taxes eight percent last year, forcing the council majority to intervene and create a zero tax increase budget.

The Reporter has detailed in previous articles how Dyster blew through nearly $50 million in casino cash, most of it spent on consultant fees, useless patronage laden bureaucracies, and “preferred developers” who always somehow seem to be campaign contributors or deeply connected to Albany and Buffalo interests.

In rough summary, the entire Dyster administration, from construction projects to personnel matters, can be described as over budget, behind schedule and mysteriously costly. Time and again from the courthouse to the train station to Lewiston Road and LaSalle Waterfront Park, the projects have gone off the rails and risen in price with no clear explanation as to what happened.
And now the Dyster administration is perched on the edge of bankruptcy, hoping against hope that the casino cash is delivered soon in order to save face and keep from going down in history as the administration that busted the bank and brought a state control board to town.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Mar05 , 2013