With a recent state audit confirming that the city will be completely broke by December, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo stating unequivocally that no addition aid would be forthcoming in the wake of the abrupt end of cash from the Seneca Niagara Casino, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster and Councilmembers Kristen Grandinetti, Andrew Touma and Charles Walker responded this week by handing out raises to around 300 mostly unionized city employees.
“The Steelworkers have been waiting a long time to get their contract settled,” Ms. Grandinetti said. “I’m going to sleep just fine tonight knowing that I did this.”
Mr. Touma also defended the raises.
“These folks work hard for a living. And I think they deserve a fair wage and they conceded with the city, worked with the city, to cut back on healthcare,” he said.
Two of the deals were for members of the Steelworkers Union, while the third covered non-union city workers.
With Councilman Ezra Scott absent from the meeting, Councilman Ken Tompkins provided the lone voice of reason. Unlike Mr. Touma and Ms. Grandinetti, Mr. Tompkins is a long time businessman.
“We are in financial trouble with the casino money in limbo right now possibly to never come our way again,” he said. “We really got to start to be looking at things and tighten our belt.”
The state audit projects the city’s reserve fund will be wiped out by the end of next year, and a projected budget gap of $12 million in 2019.
Even Mayor Dyster’s massive tax increase won’t help, since it will only raise around $2.8 million in additional revenue.
Repeated warnings by the state and former City Controller Maria Brown regarding the practice of using casino revenue to plug holes in the general fund fell on the mayor’s deaf ears.
“It’s crazy,” Councilman Tompkins told the Niagara Falls Reporter. “Handing out raises when the city’s about to go bankrupt?”
You can bet that all 300 of those city workers will turn out on Election Day to help re-elect Ms. Grandinetti and Mr. Touma in a six way race for three open council seats.
The raises handed out this week amount to little more than bribes.