Chris’s Corner: A Plan for Niagara Falls

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Councilman Chris Voccio

 

By: Chris Voccio

Niagara Falls City Councilman

It was just over a year ago. I was a candidate for city council, sitting at a council meeting and listening to an auditor from The Bonadio Group give his report on the city’s finances. One line, in the form of a question, struck me: “Does the city have a plan?”

He was alluding to our deteriorating financial condition and bond ratings and how the city lacked a plan to get out of the mess we were in, and remain in to this day. I was pleased to see the Niagara Gazette, when reporting on that meeting, quoted the auditor: “I think the issue is, does the city have a plan?”

At our last scheduled council meeting I pointed out that here we are a year later with no plan in place.

I was recently talking with a leader of the group Reclaim Niagara, which seeks to keep some monies generated in the Falls here instead of sending them to Albany. When I asked how these monies would be utilized, he inferred city government would determine that. That concerned me. Government doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to managing finances, so giving us more money may not be a smart bet.

Meanwhile, the state and the Senecas are going through an arbitration process that may yield millions of dollars to both the state and the city. If that were to happen, the city could suddenly see millions of dollars begin flowing into the treasury.

So, if the Reclaim Niagara group were to be successful, or if casino revenues started to flow into our coffers, or if we discovered gold or oil buried under Hyde Park, the question remains how should those monies be utilized.

Here’s a three part plan to consider:

FIRST, let’s recalibrate the city’s budget so that it matches recurring revenues, things like property taxes, sales taxes, state aid, etc. Let’s use rough numbers and say that number is $82 million. (We currently spend closer to $95 million because we increased our day-to-day spending with casino monies instead of investing them in infrastructure, etc.)

The hard part, of course, is where to do we cut expenses. I’ve been saying the following:

 

  • Ask city employees for ideas to reduce expenses by 5%, which was part of my 10-5 Plan. (The plan was for the 5% reduction to happen in 2018, which would make cuts in 2019 easier.)
  • Negotiate with unions to have city employees contribute 25% of their health insurance premiums, which is still a bargain.
  • Negotiate with unions to change work rules that force up overtime or cause inefficiencies.
  • Consolidate departments as per a state auditors’ recommendation.
  • Lease the golf course to a private operator.
  • Resurrect the financial advisory panel, invite them into city hall, and have them vet all operations.

 

SECOND, when the “windfall” revenue flows in, we determine what it costs to service the casino, things like police and fire protection, etc., and put that amount into the budget accordingly. Divide the remainder into four equal parts. A quarter goes to infrastructure. A quarter goes to economic development projects. A quarter goes to equalize our property tax rates. And a quarter goes into a rainy day fund. These things live up to the principle of the original casino revenue law, affectionately known as 99h. (You may note that this plan is different than a recently adopted casino spending plan that was unanimously passed by the council. As I said during that process, I had issues with that plan but I viewed it as better than no plan at all.)

THIRD, hang out a sign in front of city hall that reads, OPEN FOR BUSINESS.

Of course, this entire plan can be summed up in two words, words that I used frequently during my campaign for city council: Fiscal responsibility.

Chris Voccio is a Niagara Falls City Councilman and can be reached at ChrisVoccio@gmail.com

One Comment

  1. Also do not approve garbage fee as we are inundated which too much taxes as it is. Try to reduce burden on taxpayers before NF becomes a mass exodus city.

    Do not take in anymore sex offenders or criminals who place a burden on police and citizens.

    Have employees write down what their job is, what they do everyday, what they feel needs to be improved upon and match it against current job descriptions. In lieu of an industrial engineer evaluation ,city councilmen and/or citizen volunteers could assess portions of employee work day to help determine what can be streamlined or improved upon .

    Expenditures on all budget lines excluding straight time payroll need to be reviewed by department heads and should be included in report to the administrator and presented to council for variances every two weeks. Department heads need to adhere to targeted cost reductions. Sharing a department head may be something to look into to reduce cost.

    Bids put out to contractors should always include warranty of work. Why so many new sidewalks, cracking and spalling and accepted?

    Mr. Voccio, you have great ideas and it is time the council and mayor step up to the plate and do what they were elected to do. This fiscal mess is because Cuomo screwed up on the Seneca pact re negotiation. The mayor and council should not accept this of Cuomo nor be intimidated by him withholding future funds for not being on his bandwagon.

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