RESTAINO: City Hall Budgeting & A New Version of the “Gambler’s Ruin”

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By: Robert M. Restaino

Candidate for Mayor of Niagara Falls

In the random process of wins and losses, the longer a person gambles the greater the chance of going broke.  Also, starting out with limited resources almost guarantees that gambling will result in financial ruin.

Consequently, for anyone in the current administration at City Hall to suggest that the city’s financial woes are the sole result of the loss of the local share of casino revenue is simply not true.

Over the past several years Niagara Falls has suffered from poor financial management which has brought us to the desperate situation so prominent in the 2019 budget deliberations.  Since 2008 City Hall has used over $90 million in casino funds and $25 million in reserves to pay for basic city services. From 2012 to 2017 expenses have exceeded budgeted revenues in 5 out of 6 years (the only year that was not the case was the settlement of the first State-Seneca dispute).  The City’s recurring deficit has resulted in the down grading of our bond rating, and independent audits have exposed serious deficiencies in the ability of City Hall to manage resources effectively and efficiently. As auditors identify fiscal mismanagement within certain departments, City Hall continues to care little for how such departmental behavior impacts us all.  Each year we face a budget crisis with threats of draconian cuts to services, tax increases or poorly explained fees for services… services for which we also pay taxes.  

During my time on the Niagara Falls School Board I have pushed for new sources of revenue to be used for the improvement and repair of our buildings and properties; revenue sources that do not tax residents.  Working with the other board members, I have been successful in bringing this idea to reality.   As I worked collaboratively with other board members, the Niagara Falls School District has been successful in strengthening its financial position and earning an upgrade in the school district bond rating.  The school district exists in the same financial environment as city government and the school district has been able to achieve this stability; so it can be done.  There is a better way to administer government and I have participated, with my fellow board members, in showing our community a better way.

As mayor, management of the budget would begin on my first day in office and every day of my term.  It isn’t prudent to avoid a review of the city budget until the time comes to discuss the budget for the next year, and it is even less effective to do it without involving the other elected officials in the process. These are not election year ideas.  

In 2014, I presented some ideas for better fiscal/budget management such as, monthly city budget reviews and council committees to bring all of the elected officials into the process earlier to develop a solid financial plan for our city government. This would require an honest discussion among all of the elected officials to determine the best fiscal course; something that does not seem to currently happen in City Hall. Whether it’s petty politics, lack of respect for others opinions or just plain incompetence, Niagara Falls cannot withstand any further mismanagement and wasteful spending. There are many missed opportunities to direct federal, state and local revenues to benefit our community and not just for those projects that provide political advantages. In my time working with the NYS Office of the Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG), I was charged with finding wasteful and fraudulent spending practices by Medicaid service providers. During my service at OMIG I uncovered over $3 million in waste and fraud. I was able to do it then, and I will bring that effort to City Hall.

For once Niagara Falls should have leadership that understands the value of balancing revenues and expenses.  I have not been a full time political appointee for my entire work career.  In fact, I have maintained my professional law practice in Niagara Falls since 1986 and I know how important it is to maximize revenue and control expenses. I recognize that it is important to pay attention to this every day in order to have a profitable business.

Are there future policy implications from these past years of budgeting that “gambled” on the continuation of casino dollars?  Should we just throw up our hands and let our city fail? I recognize 

that in the future the city faces some hard choices.  I have had to confront hard choices in the past and have been successful in getting through it. I can promise you that as mayor of our city I will be committed to listening to all segments of our community.  It’s what I have been trained to do. Together I know we can find the brighter future we all are hoping for Niagara Falls.    


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