Anello Asks: Window Dressing or Real Cuts by City Leaders?

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By: Tony Farina

Former Niagara Falls Mayor Vincent Anello thinks some of the council’s cost-cutting budget maneuvering is more for show than dough and doesn’t amount to much.  In fact, he takes it a step further and says some of it might hobble some of the city departments that provide valuable services to taxpayers with very little financial savings.  

“City leaders have been nickel-and-diming for years with regards to the budget, and now they are behind the eight ball,” said Anello, referring to cuts in departments like public works.  Anello believes the city work force is not bloated and it might have been wiser to have been honest with the public and explain the need for small tax increases in the past before reaching the current crisis point. 

“There is still a need to make tough decisions,” said Anello who believes lawmakers may be trying to sidestep reality with the department cuts and some concessions by the fire union which, according to experts, may simply be a case of kicking the can down the road in the payment of retirement benefits and not amount to very much. 

 

Former Mayor of Niagara Falls Vince Anello.

 

Republican Councilman Chris Voccio, who voted against those concessions, says no one is really sure what their value is considering the uncertainty about who or how many will retire. 

For his part, Council Chairman Andrew Touma says lawmakers are continuing to work to find budget savings and to eliminate waste.  The chairman said he believes the council has identified about $335,000 in budget reductions in the work sessions and lawmakers will continue to explore consolidations to make every taxpayer dollar count in the delivery of services.

As things stand now, lawmakers will vote on a charter amendment that would enact the mayor’s proposed garbage user fee ($181 per tote) this week (Thursday), that would bring in about $4 million, coupled with a likely 2.5 percent increase in taxes for businesses and homeowners alike.  The mayor had originally proposed a 9 percent business tax increase and a 3 percent property tax hike.

The mayor had pegged the deficit at $4 million and the council’s amended budget with the tax increase, garbage user fee, and other cuts will probably be on the mayor’s desk by Friday.  In all likelihood, the user fee and tax increase will be in the final budget and then the new mayor (Robert Restaino) and the new council (still one seat undecided) will hope that the Seneca Nation stops fighting the state and agrees to make the back payment and restart slot revenue sharing.  

Touma said that Mayor-elect Restaino has been keeping in close touch with the council on the budget process and for one is certainly hoping that come January after he takes office, the budget situation, at least for now, will improve dramatically if the Senecas resume paying the state.

Touma said the city’s restructuring board and other financial advisers are in support of enacting the garbage user fee not just for next year’s budget but going forward as the city badly needs new revenue sources, casino cash notwithstanding.

“It is certainly preferable [user fee] to laying off 70 public safety officers,” said Touma.  

But as Anello and Touma agree, even with the end to the gaming stalemate, the city will still have some tough political decisions ahead to get the city on the road to recovery.  Years of avoiding those tough decisions and relying on casino cash have, as Anello said, put the city behind the eight ball.  

Part of the recovery plan likely to unfold under the new mayor is a more collaborative regional approach, including with the Senecas, to strengthen the calling card that is Niagara Falls for tourists from around the world.

 

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