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Touma Stresses Independence If He Wins Seat on Council

By Frank Parlato

Niagara Falls Council candidate Andrew Touma, born and raised in LaSalle and residing in DeVeaux, has been an educator in the Niagara Falls School District for the past 18 years. He spent as much time doing door-to-door campaigning this season as any council candidate in recent memory, far more than the three Democratic incumbents. It showed.

In the Democratic primary, Touma was the high vote getter, winning 27 out of 36 election districts. Touma also spent a fair amount of time writing position papers which shows he is engaged.

He wrote in one that "an individual who serves on the City Council assumes the personal obligation to become well informed regarding what is considered to be 'best practice' within each of the city departments that deliver basic services... such as public safety, economic development and public works."

But Touma calls the "honest and realistic assessment of the mayor's proposed budget" the "most important responsibility entrusted to the City Council."

Now, it is curious, because Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster's 2014 proposed budget calls for increases in spending by $1.5 million, and dips into the city’s reserves or savings by $4.4 million in order to grant raises to his favorites and keep taxes from going up in an election year.

Dyster expenses have gone up from $67 million when he took office to more than $83 million without increasing the tax base. He is spending $16 million more per year, not counting the tens of millions he spends of casino funds. Meantime, Dyster raised salaries for his top people. A city with a population of less than 50,000 has a city hall where salaries of department heads are nearly $100,000 per year. Before Dyster became mayor, department heads were paid between $45,000 and $68,000, which is in keeping with the incomes of the people they served.

This year Dyster has proposed raising wages by $1.1 million, including restoring City Administrator Donna Owens' salary to $110,000. It was cut last year by the Council to $70,000.

Touma, who stresses he is independent, is endorsed by Dyster, the grotesquely overly-committed tax and spend liberal, who, apparently, believes that an expanded role of government - micromanaging all of life's affairs - is the solution to the problems of the world. Spend and tax. Then spend again.

At the end of the day, if Touma is elected, the defining issue will be how supportive Touma will be of the mayor's grandiose spending plans. If Touma becomes the third vote, it may be Touma who will determine whether the council follows Dyster's tax-and-spend approach blindly over the brink or will exercise a measure of independent control that Touma promises. Will he?

Touma supports Dyster's plans to use taxpayer money to make the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center (NACC) permanently dependent on public money. He supports Dyster's plans for a train station critics say is unneeded in a city that cannot maintain its roads or police its streets, and wrongly parrots the Dyster administration's wildly inaccurate numbers that the rail project will create 200 full-time jobs and 400 indirect full-time jobs. The train station can only accommodate at most 300 passengers per day, and a five year quest will only hope to get 125 passengers per day. Two-hundred full-time employees will not be needed for 125 passengers.

The Dyster administration has become infamous for making up job numbers to support its spending sprees. The administration started the same way with the Hamister Hotel project, claiming it would create 219 construction jobs and 130 full-time jobs for a 114 - room hotel. Later, they modified it downward to 55 construction jobs and 24 full-time hotel jobs.

But Touma has other ideas. He indicates he wants to bring civility to the discourses of the council. He believes the city is dependent upon tourism but believes manufacturing can make a comeback. He says he wants to begin a cooperative dialogue with Niagara Falls Redevelopment to aid the company's development goals.

"I will work collaboratively with the other council members, the mayor, and other state and local representatives to assure these policy changes become reality," he says. "I will be an advocate for investment in the city from all sources, including higher tiers of government."

"I will keep taxes low and expand our tax base through the creation of affordable housing."

It may be easier said than done and impossible if you follow the mayor's spending plans.

"I will continue to listen to you and be the voice you deserve," Touma says.

Now that's doable, if a man really wants to try.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

OCT 29, 2013