What if they built a casino and didn't pay the rent? City Hall is currently in the process of finding out, and it isn't pretty.
The Seneca Nation of Indians suspended payments to the host municipality at the end of 2008 because of an ongoing dispute with the state, and currently owes Niagara Falls about $36 million.
The problem is that former mayor Vince Anello -- now a federal prisoner in Maryland -- and current Mayor Paul Dyster have already spent that money and more. In fact, massive public works projects like the criminally overbuilt courthouse and police station on Main Street, the ridiculous and unneeded new train station on Whirlpool Street and the until-eternity contract with Niagara County Community College for the care and feeding of the downtown culinary center have involved the spending of all expected casino cash revenue through the year 2016.
And despite the massive spending of hundreds of millions of dollars, none of the projects has or ever will result in the creation of even a single permanent private sector job.
Why the City Council has gone along with this nonsense is as unfathomable as it is irresponsible. Is there no one to look out for the interests of city taxpayers?
Speaking of the Senecas, they have all but divorced themselves from the concept of any new development on their 50-acre downtown reservation, years after they told the state they needed the land formerly occupied by the Ramada Inn, the Splash Park, Pizza Hut and numerous private residences so that development could occur.
The properties were seized from their owners, who often received little more than a token payment in compensation. Make no mistake. The Senecas promised us this expansion, and the additional jobs and revenue that would go along with it.
"We're going to grow and grow," Barry E. Snyder Sr., then-Seneca Gaming chairman, told the Buffalo News in late 2007.
That was little more than two years ago, as the tribe gobbled up prime Niagara Falls real estate and dispossessed hardworking Niagara Falls people of their homes and livelihoods.
And as mentioned above, they're not even paying their fair share of revenue to the city. D
yster, busy as he is with his taxpayer-funded train station and downtown culinary center, has completely ignored the situation that threatens to bankrupt the city he governs. That would be the city where 67 percent of the children who attend the public schools and 60 percent of patients at the hospital his own father works at come from households that are below the federal poverty level.
The news last week that County Legislator Renae Kimble would not be running for re-election again this year and may even move from the city she's served for the past 18 years was a bombshell.
It was also the latest chapter in the tragic book about the utter implosion of the Niagara County Democratic Party under its loathsome Chairman Dan Rivera.
Rivera's candidates have managed to lose in runs for Congress (Jon Powers), North Tonawanda mayor (Larry Soos), Lewiston supervisor (Fred Newlin), the state Assembly (Francine Del Monte) and the state Senate (Antoine Thompson). Under his special brand of, um, "leadership," he has turned what was a Democratic majority in the county Legislature as recently as 10 years ago into its current 15-4 Republican advantage today.
Kimble is the second of the four Democrats to announce her retirement, Jason Cafarella having resigned in January in order to become president of the Niagara Falls Firefighters Union. One other Dem legislator, Rick Marasco, is in poor health and may be unable to campaign, which sources say has Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso seriously considering dropping out as well.
None of this bodes well for Dyster, whose standing as de facto leader of the Democratic Party here now threatens to leave him a one-man show.
Perhaps that's why he's having his fundraisers in Buffalo.
Ran into Niagara Falls Schools Superintendent Cynthia Bianco this week, and we spoke briefly about the recent rejection by Niagara Falls voters of a bond issue that would have provided capital improvements for city schools that would last well into the 21st century.
When the measure was defeated by fewer than 250 votes, I was stunned and saddened. It wouldn't have cost Niagara Falls taxpayers a dime, and what's worse is that the $130 million that would have provided construction jobs, benefited material and supplies businesses, and made a big difference in the lives of our schoolchildren, our future, really, was sent to some other school district instead, one not so stupid as to reject it.
The school district has not had a tax increase in 17 years. By contrast, the city has raised taxes nine times over that same period. In my view, the school district is the most responsibly administered governmental entity that exists in Niagara County.
Compared to the crooked-up, amateur operation at City Hall and the often vainglorious efforts of our county Legislature, the management of the city schools has been, and continues to be, the very model of respectability.
I told Cynthia she should run for mayor this year and I thought she was going to slap me.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||March 15, 2011|