User Fee Passes; Voccio Says City Needs to Stop Feeding the Beast

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By: Tony Farina

The Niagara Falls City Council has gone along with outgoing Mayor Paul Dyster’s proposal for a garbage user fee ($181) next year by a 3 – 2 vote, but one of the two city lawmakers who voted against that charter amendment is sticking to his guns about the need to cut spending in the future or face continuing financial problems, user fee notwithstanding.

“I’ve been saying for some time that we need to put government on a diet,” said Republican Councilman Chris Voccio in the wake of last Thursdsay’s vote approving the user fee amendment to help close a projected $4.1 million deficit.  That user fee had been recommended by the city’s financial restructuring board.

“It won’t happen overnight, but we need to reduce spending,” said Voccio in explaining why he joined outgoing Democratic lawmaker Ezra Scott in voting against the user fee.  “We can’t continue to feed the beast, and I voted against the garbage fee in hopes of forcing a 4 percent cut in spending instead.”

 

City Councilman Chris Voccio.

 

Voccio will be joined by newly elected Republican John Spanbauer on the council come January 1, and Spanbauer, a retired college administrator, campaigned on the idea that there is a need to operate government in a fiscally responsible manner to insure a financial recovery in the coming years.

In his victorious campaign, Spanbauer shot straight from the hip in appealing to voters about the city’s need to rethink how it operates, and that includes running government like a business and cutting costs when the money is running out, not just finding new money to cover those costs.

Spanbauer’s views on attacking the city’s financial crisis would seem to put him in Voccio’s corner about the need to look at health insurance and work rules as ways to reduce costs, the “debt diet” that Voccio espouses.

Incumbent GOP lawmaker Kenny Tompkins who along with Voccio and Spanbauer will give Republicans control of the council for the first time in 50 years, has been under fire for supporting the garbage user fee along with Democrats Andrew Touma and William Kennedy, but he says the cuts never materialized that he had hoped would make the user fee unnecessary.

“The level of services to taxpayers would have been seriously diminished had we cut public safety and public works,” said Tompkins in explaining his vote in favor of the user fee amendment to raise the much-needed revenue to close the deficit.

“If we had voted to lay off 30 from public works, 20 police officers, and some from the fire department [younger firefighters would have gone first], we would have hurt the delivery of services that are not good enough now,” said Tompkins.  Tompkins said those cuts also would have been diminished by higher overtime costs to cover the loss of personnel.

Tompkins says he is looking forward to working with the new administration and the new council in looking for ways to reduce government spending in the days and months ahead.  Like Spanbauer and current Chairman Touma, he realizes that many tough political decisions dot the path to recovery and like the user fee, which is used in most cities, will not be greeted warmly by taxpayers and city unions.

There are indeed many challenges ahead for the new mayor, Robert Restaino, and the new council come January 1 as city leaders attempt to navigate a city burdened with, as some observers suggest, a history of poor decision-making and the lack of political will to make the tough decisions that would have made a difference.

While it is certainly not a total remedy for the city’s fiscal plight, the new year could get off to a hopeful start if the Seneca Nation agrees to pay the $256 million an arbitration panel and federal court judge says it owes the state as a result of stopping payments back in 2017.

As Touma stated last week after the council voted on the user fee amendment, lawmakers are hoping to continue to reduce the amount of casino revenue-sharing dollars to the budget if and when the payments resume.  In other words, lawmaker would like to use those casino dollars for infrastructure and economic development, as intended under the gaming compact, and not to balance budget as has been the case for some time.

 

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