Chris’s Corner: Advice for Our Next Mayor

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By: Chris Voccio

Niagara Falls City Councilman

As you read this, we’re fast approaching the June 25th primary election and from there we march towards the November general election. Because of the makeup of the Niagara Falls electorate, and if history is any guide, our next mayor will be chosen on June 25th. 

He’ll be walking into a fiscal mess. Even if the dispute with the Senecas has been resolved, we’ll still have a gaping budget deficit. If the casino revenue issue hasn’t been resolved, the current mayor and Council will have been forced to make some drastic decisions, and the next mayor will need to repair the damage and build a new, more affordable city government structure.

Either way, here are a few things I would recommend, in no particular order, the next mayor do immediately:

Don’t let the budget you inherit bind your hands

The current mayor will present a proposed budget in September. The City Council will tinker with it on the margins, so you, as our new mayor when sworn in on January 1st, will inherit someone else’s budget.

It will be easy to accept that fate and live by that budget until the next round of budgeting in 2020. Nonsense. Announce expense cuts on January 1st, to be made as rapidly as your team can execute them. You should begin reducing expenses immediately, building a budget surplus as we move through the year and, more importantly, sending a strong message that we are going to right-size government.

You also need to sell city employees and their unions, the City Council and the populace as a whole, on the importance of investing the casino revenues into enduring projects (infrastructure and economic development) and not pumping these monies into our budget. Let’s work to get spending levels down to recurring revenue levels, using the casino revenues to rebuild the city.

But do this on Day One, not in your second year in office merely because you inherited someone else’s budget.

We need a balance between management and the unions

It is imperative that you build a strong management team, and I’m sure you’ve already decided on at least of few of the department heads who will make up your cabinet. In addition to these people being competent, your team must declare loyalty to taxpayers first and foremost. 

We need the people who report directly to you to understand they are management, which means they represent the interests of the city (the taxpayers) and not the municipal unions. There cannot be dual-loyalties here. 

Sure, your inner-circle needs to care for and support their employees (whether they be police, fire, DPW or any other city personnel), but these employees belong to unions that have union officials representing them. Your department heads should not, under any circumstances, belong to any of the unions. Period. 

They must understand that in the balance between management and unions, they are management.

Ditch the reserved parking signs at City Hall

A small but meaningful symbolic gesture would be to immediately remove all City Hall parking lot signage that reserves parking spots closest to City Hall for various city officials, including the five City Council members, the Mayor and various other government employees.

If we’re going to have any reserved spots (other than handicap parking spots), those signs should read, “Reserved for Taxpayers.”

Build relationships with the Senecas and our other neighbors

Another must is to forge a strong relationship with our Seneca friends. Their casino is within our city limits, and we both have an interest in a more prosperous Niagara Falls. The millions of dollars they’ve invested into improving their facility, especially the outside improvements, benefit Niagara Falls.

Build a strong relationship with Seneca leadership and lets explore ways we can work together for our mutual benefit, regardless of the casino revenue resolution.

While we’re on the subject of forging relationships, there are a multitude of synergies that can be had from working with nearby towns, Niagara County, the school district, NU and more. We need strong alliances that are mutually beneficial.

You’ll have at least one new Council member, and I’m predicting you’ll have a Republican majority Council, the first in decades. If you’re committed to a more sensible fiscal policy, you’ll have a Council eager to work alongside you for a better, stronger Niagara Falls.

Chris Voccio is a Niagara Falls City Council member and can be reached at


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