State Sen. George Maziarz issued a blistering broadside this week, directed against Mayor Vince Anello, state Assemblywoman Francine Del Monte and the Niagara Gazette for what he characterized as a series of half-truths and outright fabrications concerning the future disposition of the local share of revenues from the Seneca Niagara Casino.
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That share amounted to $9.5 million this year and is expected to grow to between $10 million and $12 million in 2005. Maziarz has introduced legislation that would direct 25 percent of the money to the Niagara Falls School District, Memorial Medical Center, the Niagara Falls International Airport and the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. The remaining 75 percent would be turned over directly to the city.
"By the end of the year, the city will be $4-to-$6 million in the hole, and you've got a mayor who has added at least $500,000 in payroll by appointing his friends and members of his own family to patronage positions," Maziarz said. "Frankly, I argued against giving him control of the 75 percent."
Additionally, Maziarz pointed out, Anello was a member of the City Council that approved this year's budget.
Under Maziarz's state Senate proposal, Anello and the elected members of the City Council would decide what was done with the money.
"He won't say it, but Anello's real problem with this is that the Council members are given a say," Maziarz said. "He wants 100 percent of the money and 100 percent authority over how it's spent."
In several newspaper articles last week, Anello whined that he'd been "blindsided" by the Maziarz proposal, announced at a news conference held at Memorial Medical Center. In reality, both Anello and Del Monte were briefed on the proposal at a Sept. 9 meeting, and both were invited to the press conference, Maziarz said.
"Vince, Francine and (City Council Chairman) Charles (Walker) all attended the prior meeting and all of them knew what the proposal was going to be. (State Sen.) Byron (Brown) was invited, but chose not to attend," Maziarz said.
When Memorial CEO Joseph Ruffolo gave a PowerPoint presentation of hospital improvements that could be undertaken with a $750,000 share of the casino cash, Del Monte became visibly agitated, Maziarz said.
"She went ballistic. Right in front of everybody she called the hospital administrators 'outsiders' who shouldn't be allowed at the meeting. It was embarrassing."
Del Monte and Anello both argued that only elected officials should have any input on the division of the casino cash, and that Ruffolo and Schools Superintendent Carmen Granto should have no place at the table. Del Monte and Anello left the meeting with their noses out of joint, and only later convinced gullible Gazette stenographers that they knew nothing of the Maziarz plan.
"I don't know why they would say they were left out, and I don't know why the Gazette would print it, since I informed the paper at the time about the prior meeting," Maziarz said.
Currently -- and in addition to the casino revenue -- the city receives $11.2 million in unrestricted state aid. By comparison, North Tonawanda receives just $2 million.
"You've got 50,000 people living in Niagara Falls and 35,000 living in North Tonawanda. Obviously, the Falls faces a different set of problems, and you might expect it to get double or even triple what goes to NT," Maziarz said. "But the reality is that it gets five times as much."
The senator also bristled at criticism that he "doesn't represent" the city of Niagara Falls.
"Look, between 50 and 60 percent of the people in the Falls are on some form of public assistance, compared to 4 percent in Lewiston and around 2 percent in Porter," he said. "The Medicaid and welfare programs that support a large number of the city's residents are paid for through property taxes levied on my constituents in the suburbs."
Maziarz said that, while Anello, Del Monte and Brown were all invited but chose not to attend last week's press conference, he was heartened to see Council Chairman Walker show up to represent the city.
"Charles is a real gentleman and it shows in everything he does," he said. "Back in June, he and (City Councilman) Babe Rotella were the only ones with enough class to come to the opening of the new conference center," Maziarz said. "And it's my understanding they took hell for that from the mayor."
While the school district and Memorial Medical Center are arguably far more important institutions than the city administration, Anello seems to have successfully convinced the out-of-towners running the Gazette that he and he alone should decide how those institutions are funded. In the case of the airport and the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., Anello's intransigence may stymie development here for years to come.
"I think it's nuts," Maziarz told the Reporter. "I don't understand it. It's crazy."
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Sept. 21 2004|