City avoids hard cuts to 2018 budget, “gambles” casino funds will return

Council vows to override possible mayoral veto on police retirements

By Joseph Kissel

In total, 14 positions were eliminated from the city’s 2018 budget through a $10,000 retirement incentive.

“If the mayor had done it in July, he could have saved the taxpayers a million dollars,” said Councilman Andy Touma.

The cuts through attrition represented almost a third of the $1.3 million actually cut from the mayor’s proposed budget that would have seen taxes for businesses rise 14 percent and homeowners 2.6 percent.

After Thursday’s adoption of the 2018 budget — and expected adoption of a resolution at the Dec. 11 meeting shifting 20 percent on the tax burden back on homeowners — the percentage of tax increase will be 7.7 for businesses and .01 percent for homeowners.

“He should have made very hard cuts this year because if we don’t get casino money, how do we make up $12 million,” said Touma. “How do you do it?”

Councilman Kenny Tompkins said he hoped to see “three of four million” cut from the budget. “So if we don’t get casino money instead of looking at $12 million, we are looking for eight. It would at least soften the blow,” Tompkins said.

The most controversial positions cut through attrition originated in the police department, and Chief Bryan DalPorto went before news cameras to call the move unsafe for the city.

“We can’t afford them,” said retiring council president Charles Walker. “That’s what he has to understand. We can no longer afford a police department that’s the size we have. Especially with some of the increases they got. We were surviving because we had casino dollars. As a city we have to look at what we can afford. It’s great to have them. But you have to be able to pay for it. And right now we are in a situation where we can’t pay for it.”

Members of Niagara Falls police officers speak with incoming council member Chris Voccio on Wednesday about the five department jobs being eliminated through retirement.

Mr. Touma: “We are not taking any police officers off the street. And we will still have the same force on the street, per shift, every shift. How is that making the city unsafe?”

Mr. Tompkins said: “He’s got to sit down with his union. Some of these jobs could be turned over to civilian people to lessen the costs and the burden and put the police out on the street. It’s management.”

Through the budget process Mr. Walker was vocal about making sure positions eliminated through retirement were not “backfilled.”

Mr. Tompkins agreed.

“The only way the incentive program works is if you lose the positions that you are giving an incentive for,” Mr. Tompkins said. “If not, in two or three years you are back to same to the same dollar amounts, and basically all you did was give the retirees at the time a gift. I think that was always our intention that the incentive is for the people who we would lose through attrition.”

The council will push for more retirements and job elimination through attrition in 2018.

“There are still over 80 employees that are eligible to retire in the city,” said Mr. Touma. “Obviously, another incentive would bode well for us. But you can’t backfill those positions and expect us to make any movement on this. We took a stand and didn’t backfill most of those positions because that’s the whole idea of the incentive.”

Representatives from the Niagara Falls business community spoke against the proposed 14 percent tax increase at Monday’s public hearing and said they need to feel secure in the direction the city is moving.

“We felt it was necessary to do it now for two reasons,” Mr. Touma continued, “One, to start cutting and thinning out the ranks. And two, to make sure we offset that proposed tax increase because it hurt the commercial end of it immensely and we didn’t want to push our folks out of the city, and we want to entice them to come here. It also sends a message to the state that we are starting to cut expenses the way that we should.”

“And the Senecas are watching,” Mr. Touma said. “They want to make sure we are managing our money properly. Especially if they win this suit. If they are going to work with the city, are we are using that money wisely?”

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
.wpzoom (color:black;}