Spanbauer Shooting Straight With Voters in Run for Council

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By: Tony Farina

John Spanbauer is shooting straight from the hip in his campaign for a seat on the Niagara Falls City Council.

A Republican, Spanbauer is telling voters as he works the city that there are no easy choices in the next four years, warning that it will take some politically difficult decisions to right the financial ship.

Spanbauer, a retired college administrator and part-time professor is talking about issues that are normally off-limits to political candidates, like the need to review “obsolete union contracts and contract provisions that are costly to the city.”  

The political newcomer says there is a need to operate government in a fiscally responsible manner to insure a financial recovery in the coming years, and in that regard he says “I have many questions as related to the city budget, specifically the payroll,” saying he is trying to understand why there are so many employees making very hefty salaries.

Spanbauer says according to the 2018 payroll stats published by the public service website SeeThroughNY, Niagara Falls has 16 employees making over $150,000 with two making over $200,000.

Spanbauer adds when compared to similar-sized municipalities such as Binghamton, Utica and Troy, “those cities do not have one employee making $150,000.  A portion of our taxes go to pay city employees, but I am concerned that the city payroll is burdened with an unjustified amount of salaries that are over $100,000.  In 2018, the city had 80 employees  making over $100,000. With a city that is financially strapped, I struggle with the fact that the city has approximately 500 full-time employees with 16% making over $100,000.

The former college administrator concedes that the contracts are in place for several years to come, the work of previous city lawmakers and mayors, but that the time to start running government like a business has come, given the city’s dire fiscal condition made all the worse by the gaming stalemate with the Senecas.

If elected to the council, Spanbauer said he will consider himself an “elected employee” with the taxpayers of Niagara Falls as his supervisor.

Spanbauer says that from day one of his campaign, he has quoted Arthur Schoellkopf who was elected mayor of Niagara Falls in 1896 with a slogan of “Municipal government is business not politics,” and that’s the way he would govern if elected.

‘I will use the skill set I obtained in the private sector to operate government like a business,” he tells voters.  “In the private sector, it is understood that when expenses exceed revenues, changes have to be made.  I have been part of tough budgetary decisions, and will guarantee our residents that I will do my best to ensure tha the leadership of this city operates in a fiscally responsible manner.”

Spanbauer, who says the city must gradully scale back on its reliance on casino dollars to balance budgets, says the city and council must convene a city budget summit involving all of the stakeholders, including residents, in determining the level of basic services that are appropriate for the city and how to pay for those services. 

Given the city’s extremely precarious financial condition, Spanbauer says that every time there is a retirement or someone leaves a city position, the position must be evaluated and assessed.  In other words, is it needed or can it be consolidated with another position?

It is tough talk for a politician to even suggest examining union contracts, but Spanbauer is shooting straight from the hip in pointing out the city’s deepening fiscal crisis and the need to look at running government like a business, cutting costs when the money is running out.

For Niagara Falls, the money is running out, and the situation grows more difficult by the day given the ongoing gaming crisis and escalating costs.  The next administration, including mayor and council, will have its work cut out to make ends meet, including finding new revenue streams, and that will mean making tough political decisions that have been avoided for years.

Spanbauer deserves credit for telling voters how it is and letting them know there are difficult times ahead with no easy choices.


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