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Sincerity of finance panel’s call to stop irresponsible spending is questioned

It’s growing increasingly difficult to follow the bouncing ball – or hot potato – as the members of the city Finance Advisory Panel appear periodically in front of the council to lecture (chuckle) the council on fiscal integrity and the need (smirk) to suddenly begin counting the pennies and dimes after the $100 plus million casino revenue cow has fled the barn.

The review panel appeared at the February 8 council meeting in what was presumptively part two of their ongoing lecture series on fiscal integrity. Their most recent lecture prior to February 8 took place – conveniently – only days after the council and mayor collaborated on a budget preparation process that saw the 2016 budget passed in virtual secrecy with amendments, that, to this day, the council chairman and mayor decline to share with the residents.

In that earlier appearance the panel made a presentation to the council containing recommendations that could have possibly and positively impacted the preparation of the 2016 budget… but by the time the finance panel shared their thoughts the council and mayor had already  – surprise – made the 2016 budget into law.

Due to the apparent budget chicanery the recommendations of the Finance Advisory Panel were rendered meaningless. Was it a matter of the mayor and council conspiring to keep the budget out of reach of the panel or did the panel “take a fall” in allowing the council and mayor to play their charade? In the end it doesn’t matter, the gamesmanship produced the desired effect: The council and mayor got the budget they wanted and it was all done out of sight of the residents.

Which brings us to the February 8 finance panel council presentation in which vague suggestions as to where the money disappeared are piled upon vague suggestions on how to end the breathtaking spending. Yes, we know there’s been too much spending for the past eight years and it didn’t take a Dyster/Touma anointed panel to report the obvious. The Reporter has been detailing that spending for those eight years.

So, once more with feeling, we’re going to hit some of the irresponsible spending highlights for those very few who are truly interested in knowing which way the money went.

Courthouse at $50,000,000. Train station at a minimum of $44,000,000. Hard Rock concerts $700,000. Trash totes $2,300,000. Events and Parties on Old Falls St. [Subsidizing USA Niagara] $1,500,000.  Isaiah 61 fire hall $500,000. Rebid of the train station (an expense in search of a state audit) $350,000. 72nd Street water lines $1,000,000. Lawyers $1,000,000. We can go on and on with the parking plan consulting fees, engineering fees because the mayor insists on violating the city charter by refusing to hire an engineer, casino revenue cash for tree removal, aid to community missions, pay raises, stipends, rampant over time, a cool $150,000 for penguins and so on as we’ve catalogued repeatedly in real time over and over.

Did the finance panel dig into this troubling list of expenditures? Nah. Why do that when you can support the administration and council chairman’s desire for a 2016 city wide reassessment. Why question the mayor’s shocking eight year orgy of taxpayer cash waste when it’s much easier to raise taxes on the residents so the spending can continue unabated.

As for looking high and low for wasted or escaped cash? Has the finance panel bothered to read the State Comptroller’s 2013 city audit? The audit reports that a “conservatively estimated” minimum of $1,400,000 is unaccounted for. It also states that much more than that amount was misdirected within the budget. And the finance panel and administration – with straight faces – are now going to target employee health insurance as the main culprit for budget woes?

$100,000,000 here and an unaccounted $1,400,000 there. Pretty soon you’re talking real money. Real taxpayer money.

Make no mistake, a genuine financial tidal wave is approaching city hall. There’s going to be more than enough tough questions to go around when that wave crashes over the administration. But don’t say the Reporter didn’t warn you. In fact we’ve been warning you for the past eight years.

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