Reclaim Niagara Aims To Get Albany Out Of Our Pockets

by Mike Hudson

The ways in which the Niagara Frontier, and the city of Niagara Falls in particular, has been ripped off for decades by Albany has been a recurring theme for the Niagara Falls Reporter since the paper was founded 16 years ago.

The New York Power Authority, Parks Commission, Bridge Commission, the Love Canal settlement fiasco, the lopsided payments from the slot machine revenue and more has provided fodder for hundreds of stories.carSenecaMap

Now, a group of Falls businessmen have formed a not-for-profit organization dedicated to righting these wrongs. Reclaim Niagara is promising to do something about the inequity.

How is it that a small city that is home to one of the natural wonders of the world and generates enough hydroelectric power to light much of the Eastern United States is also one of the most impoverished and highly taxed cities in the state of New York?

“We have an amazing waterfront, amazing parks, we have power,” said Jason Cafarella, former county legislator who is also a city firefighter and practicing attorney said. “Unfortunately, we can’t succeed as a city as long as the state and its authorities continue to seize our resources from us.”

Businessman Shawn Weber said the group is not looking to take all the money now flowing into Albany’s coffers, but a reasonable percentage that he believes the city is cheated out of year after year in the state budget process. 

“They took these assets from us,” Weber said.caruglyad

According to the group’s website — — the region’s most precious resources, including Niagara Falls State Park, the Niagara Gorge Corridor and the Robert Moses Power Project, have been effectively seized by state government while the Cataract City built around those natural assets continues to suffer. Among the website’s chief complaints:

— The Niagara Power Company was one a privately owned company that paid city property tax. At one point, the taxes paid by this private company contributed to 40 percent of our city’s budget. Now, the New York Power Authority operates a larger, more profitable power project, yet pays no real estate tax to our city.

— 2015 was a record breaking year for the New York State Park at Niagara Falls. Although the state generates millions of dollars of profit from the park, the state forces the city to use casino money to pay to USA Niagara, the state’s development corporation here. 

— Love Canal. We all know of the health problems that Love Canal has caused our innocent residents. After the Love Canal was remediated, the city was left with a huge area of vacant lots and dilapidated housing. These were once robust neighborhoods of middle class tax paying residents. Yet, the state swooped in and stole the Love Canal proceeds without any thought towards rebuilding our destroyed neighborhoods.

— The International Bridge Commission has millions of visitors passing across its bridges in Niagara Falls every year. Despite the fact that bridge crossings generate millions of dollars in profit for the Bridge Commission, they only contribute approximately $35,000 per year to local civic groups. Where is the money going? Who is monitoring them? And why are they permitted to operate within our city, with the protection of our public safety and use of our infrastructure, and they pay no property taxes?

— Who oversees the New York Power Authority? A recent audit by the State Comptroller’s office revealed that the power authority has no oversight and its operations are virtually impossible to be audited by the Comptroller. Yet, in the audit revealed that NYPA owned two private jets, and staffed multiple pilots and employees to coordinate travel for the board members. Does a public authority really need two private jets? Does it need a staff to coordinate travel for its board members? Shouldn’t there be some real oversight with real accountability?

— The state has claimed 75 percent of all revenue from the Seneca Niagara Casino while the city, the host municipality, receives only 25 percent. Like it or not, Niagara Falls has been very financially vested in the casino. First, the city gave up very valuable property to the Senecas for the development of the casino. Additionally, the city provides infrastructure and public safety for the patrons. And finally, it is likely that the casino actually hurt local tax paying businesses because local businesses cannot compete with the tax free casino eateries and bars inside. What has the state sacrificed to justify their share of their casino money?

— New York State has stolen thousands of acres of prime real estate in Niagara. The state has cut the city off from the Falls themselves with its state park and the Robert Moses Parkway. The state has inundated the city with power lines and underground tunnels for the benefit of its power project. The state has taken not only  state park, but it also has taken all possible revenue generated therein. And the state has taken advantage of the water rights with the Maid of the Mist. Yet the city has to have the yearly debate about what public service shall be cut to balance the budget. Why do we continuously have to pay to support the state’s prosperous ventures while receiving nothing in return?carparlatocartoon

Cafarella said the group has been planning its campaign for over a year. A May 7walking tour is planned and will begin in Schoellkopf Park at the intersection of Walnut Avenue and Portage Road. The tour will proceed along the Robert Moses Parkway South, through the state park, up Old Falls Street and to the casino.

“In a half a mile walk we’re going to see all of our great resources that are all huge opportunities from our city,” Cafarella said.

Patrick Proctor, the owner of Rainbow Air Helicopter Tours and a member of the Niagara Falls Tourism Advisory Board, said the looting will continue until residents “voices are heard.” The group is also circulating participatory petitions, because “with education comes mobilization,” he said.carRobertGooses (2)

Every point made by the Reclaim Niagara group has been made for years by the Reporter in 100’s of stories – in almost identical language as any online search will easily demonstrate.

It is gratifying to see that after years of being denigrated as radical, the Niagara Falls Reporter is being accepted as the voice of reason, of foresight, of telling truth to power.

As one of stories headlined eight years ago: Albany is killing the town.

It is. It is time to reclaim Niagara.car3stoogesRM

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