SOCK IT TO ME BABY: Dyster Administration Proposes Garbage ‘User Fee,’ Tax Increase & Cuts to Police / Fire Departments

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Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster

 

 

By: Frank Parlato

Paul A. Dyster became Mayor of Niagara Falls on January 1, 2008, shortly after the casino revenue started being paid to the City.

In an unprecedented windfall –  unknown anywhere in the USA where a city so small got so much – Niagara Falls, population 50,000,  began to receive from $16 to $22 million annually from a negotiated contract with the Seneca Nation of Indians – made prior to Dyster taking office.

The compact made in 2003 required a percentage of casino slots revenue generated at the Seneca Niagara Casino be paid to the city.

Dyster was the big beneficiary. From 2008 to 2017 his administration received some $200 million in casino cash.

This incredible monetary infusion ended after Dyster failed to monitor negotiations with the Senecas and Governor Andrew Cuomo for the casino compact renewal.

The governor failed to include any payment to Niagara Falls for the tax-free casino hosted here and Dyster failed to realize this – he said – until after the compact was negotiated and signed.

Maybe it didn’t matter. For years, Dyster wasted the bulk of the casino cash and today – without it – Dyster plunged the city into a $13.5 million annual deficit.

Today the Niagara Reporter has the unpleasant task of informing readers that they will likely be hit with a trio of unpleasant measures: A tax increase, a new garbage user fee and cuts to police and fire departments.

And just to complete the picture, a property reassessment is also in the works.

The only hope lies in council members to reject this wide-scale cost hike on the already overtaxed residents of Niagara Falls.

Dyster is squarely behind it.  His chief ally on the council, Andrew Touma, is also believed to be solidly for the tax hike, garbage fee and cuts to services.

In case anyone doubts that Dyster plans to hit residents with these hefty increases, consider what City Administrator Nick Melson said in an op-ed published recently in the Niagara Gazette.

Melson wrote, “a user fee… … will mean expanded benefits and options for residents of Niagara Falls.”  Melson estimates the proposed user fee will generate $3.6 million in revenue.  A single family household would pay $200 for the year.

Melson writes “The options are clear: a double digit tax increase, massive layoffs and cuts in public safety and services, or revenue enhancement measures such as this user fee. I think the answer lies in a combination of belt-tightening cuts, imposition of a user fee, and a modest single digit tax increase.”

The ‘user fee’ and tax increase are two topics on the agenda at the “Let’s Talk Budget Meeting” on Wednesday September 26th, 2018. And both are sure to spark lively discussion this week during the comment period of Wednesday September 19th’s City Council Meeting.

It is amazing that cutting a bloated government is not the first order of business.

Then again, it’s not like the city is run lean to begin with.

Niagara Falls’ expenses are $91.4 million (for population of 47,000).

Schenectady [66,000 people] spends $85.2 million.

Troy [48,000] spends $73.6 million.

Utica [60,000] spends $72.4 million.

Binghamton [47,000] – the same size as Niagara Falls – spends $65.3 million.

So now, as residents brace for tax increases and user fees proposed by a mayor who forgot to make sure the Senecas paid a dime to the city – let’s look at how Dyster spent the $200 million.

Here are a few of the things he bought for $200 million:

 

$150,000 to Community Missions to bail them out of a tax lien problem;

$100,000 for tree trimming;

$2.2 million for trash totes;

$3.3 million annually to cover the $46.5 million overpriced and oversized courthouse’s thirty-year mortgage;

$6,200 for planning department rugs and drapes, and millions for city hall salaries;

canoe launches on Cayuga Creek, Cayuga Island and at Hyde Park;

the Aquarium of Niagara got $100,000 to improve the habitat for penguins;

$947,305 went to the Niagara Falls Ice Pavilion (including $269,000 in consulting fees);

Dyster paid a consultant $112,430 to write a “downtown parking plan;”

handed $373,581 to his board at the NFC;

gifted the infamous Holiday Market $225,000;

awarded $20,000 to the Blues Festival;

paid a consultant $7,320 to design signs at LaSalle Waterfront Park;

covered “additional costs” related to the Culinary Arts project at $278,290;

paid a private operator $59,257 to remove tree stumps;

put a new roof on the Carnegie building for $659,810;

joined the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise for $50,000;

landscaped the downtown “medians and traffic circle” for $57,397;

put an engineering consultant day-to-day in city hall for  $94,000;

gave Isaiah 61 organization $500,000;

paid $105,662 in 2013 for an Underground Railroad Interpretive Center “change order;”

paid $20,000 to repair a Sal Maglie Stadium light tower;

paid $90,000 to replace two light poles in a city lot next to Wrobel Towers;

dumped $459,757 into the city’s “ZOOM” program;

the Hard Rock Café received $700,000 to stage a series of rock concerts;

he bought a 5.5 acre property, at 3625 Highland Ave., for $165,000 (more than twice its actual value);

$4 million toward building an unwanted and unneeded train station;

$1 million to subsidize USA Niagara to pay Global Spectrum to run events and parties on Old Falls Street;

$50,000 to erect a statue on a Rainbow Boulevard traffic island;

$210,595 for a fresh fleet of Code Enforcement vehicles;

the city’s 2014 road reconstruction plan tapped into casino cash at $5.3 million;

$70,000 in 2011 for the pothole “killer,” $111,000 for the pothole “zipper” in 2011, $140,000 for pothole killing in 2012 and 2013, $104,000 for pothole equipment rental in 2014 and $185,000 in zipper machine materials for 2014;

a “grant consultant” $30,000 per year in casino cash;

the Dyster administration gave Seminole Nation’s billion-dollar Hard Rock Cafe Inc.;

$707,000 of casino cash for concerts including a New Year’s Eve party for $50,000 in 2012;

Dyster gave $72,000 of casino money to hire “a consultant from the National Development Council” to consult the NFC program that the mayor presides over as chairman;

he gifted the Holiday Inn owner with $550,000 in casino funds to build a restaurant that he would have otherwise had to pay for himself as part of Holiday Inn’s franchise requirements;

the mayor’s SWEET program – Sanitation Waste Education and Enforcement Team – sucked away $58,558 of casino dollars to hire three people and create a trash office within DPW;

the rollout of the trash plan was anything but smooth and the mayor had to revisit the plan and give the waste hauler an additional $284,622 of casino cash to tide the city over from May to the end of 2014;

petunias along Buffalo Avenue cost $100,000 in casino cash for a contractor to “streetscape” that portion of the street;

City Hall received a new paved parking lot at a cost of $468,720 courtesy of casino money;

Dyster kicked in an additional $350,000 of casino resources to consultants to cover a suspicious “re-bidding” of the train station project;

the Underground Railroad Interpretive Center tapped the casino funds for $2.1 million;

since 2009 John Percy’s NTCC has knocked down $7.3 million in casino cash and nobody knows what they did with it.

 

Throughout this rampant spending, the tax base continued to shrink and no new private sector jobs were created by the mayor’s spending.

So now we are to trust him that he needs to increase taxes and impose a garbage user fee.

Sounds logical.

2 Comments

  1. “Andrew Touma, is also believed to be solidly for the tax hike, garbage fee and cuts to services”—says the man who rakes in over $110,000/yr salary at the taxpayers expense wants to bleed the working poor and elderly on fixes incomes for more. How does one justify this elitist viewpoint?

    Cuomo and Dyster are responsible for this mess. Cuomo wants to run for president in 2020. Cuomo’s screwup of a basic contract with the Native Americans Casino would make for great national media exposure.

  2. I’m selling my home and moving out of Niagara Falls. This is the reason why.

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