Financial CRUNCH Continues to Squeeze Cataract City

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By: Tony Farina

It appears the three host cities that have lost their casino payments due to the stalemate between the state and the Seneca Nation will have to wait at least a few more weeks to find out if the impasse will be broken following last week’s two-day arbitration in New York City.

“The two sides have been told to try and settle their differences,” said a source close to the Senecas who was briefed on the arbitration held in a virtual news blackout last week.  

But while Niagara Falls and the two other host cities remain in the dark about what’s going to happen between the state and the Senecas, the Cataract City is now facing the task of finding a new police superintendent for the coming year and also a new fire chief as both have submitted their resignations.

While neither resignation is directly tied to the loss of casino money, there’s no question that Niagara Falls is reeling financially from the loss of the revenue and elected officials are not in a position come up with more money to sweeten the salaries of the public safety leaders.

In fact, according to the adopted budget for 2019, Police Supt. Bryan DalPorto actually had his salary cut from $110,000 to $101,541, and while he tells this newspaper his decision to resign as superintendent after six years effective Jan. 1 was not about money, he stands to make more money reverting to his rank as a captain, allowing him to earn substantial overtime and increase his final pension numbers.  The final pension payout for police and fire is based on the average of the final three years of salary.

“I’ve always given 110 percent,” said DalPorto.  “I felt the time was right for me and my family, time to do something different.”   While the outgoing superintendent denied his decision was tied to salary, he conceded that people need to do what is in their best interest financially, and in this case, he will definitely improve his position.

DalPorto has been with the department for 21 years and also has 26 years as a military reservist.  He has a wife and two children, including a 12-year-old hockey-playing son. 

“He will be sadly missed,” said Councilmember Kenny Tompkins, praising DalPorto’s dedication and commitment to the city but acknowledging the city’s financial difficulties.

“I think the salary of $110,000 is okay,” said Tompkins, noting the median household income in Niagara Falls was $33,965 from 2013-2017,  “and I know there are a lot of people from in-house who are applying for both the police and fire posts, even though with next year’s mayoral election, it could be a one-year job.”

Fire Chief Thomas Colangelo resigned last month from his $110,000 job which is scheduled to rise to slightly more than $112,000 under next year’s adopted budget.  Like DalPorto, Colangelo will be able to increase his earnings and pension numbers by picking up substantial overtime in his union position.

We have two classifications in the public safety ranks, says Councilmember Chris Voccio, “one for the boots and one for the brass.  They are incredibly bullet-proof, and if there’s no casino money coming in, we need people willing to change these contracts,” suggesting the city can no longer afford them, especially with no casino revenue.

In Albany, a city with twice the population of Niagara Falls, the police chief earns $145,000 and the fire chief $124,347.   Rochester’s police chief earns between $106,587 – $142,540 to lead the department in a city of more than 208,000 people.  The range for the fire chief is about the same. 

Bryan DalPorto is a fine public servant who leaves as superintendent in a move that clearly benefits him and his family, and it would be absolutely unfair to criticize him after he has given the city six years of his life in a job that puts him under the spotlight 24 hours a day.

“I think we have a great city,” says DalPorto, “and the people are great.  I will miss the opportunity everyday to help somebody.”

As the financial uncertainty continues to plague the city, the challenges are everywhere and the city’s next chief executive will have his work cut out for him or her, whether tapping new public safety leaders or finding new economic opportunities to create jobs and give people hope for the future.  Right now, everything seems on hold pending the outcome of the arbitration.

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