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DEC 02 - DEC 09, 2014

Choolokian Budget Would Have Eliminated Dyster Tax Hikes and Restore Jobs; Council Majority Chickens Out

December 03, 2014

Councilmember Glenn Choolokian proposed no tax increase!

Niagara Falls City Councilman Glenn Choolokian, a lawmaker who routinely finds himself at the short end of a council majority that has consistently favored Mayor Paul Dyster’s spending plans, released his own 2015 budget plan.

That plan was only partly adopted by the council majority that apparently did not have the will to cut as much as Choolokian wished.

Still the City Council voted on 80 plus budget amendments last Friday, approving measures to transfer casino revenues to pay for items paid for from the general fund, based on Choolokian's recommendations. On Monday the council majority waffled on insuring no tax increase but supported a number of Choolokian’s measures.

IN the end the council majority adopted a proposed budget with a tax increase of about two percent..

But it was Choolokian who led the way.

His amendments slashed Dyster's proposed 2015 budget which  included a "one-shot" plan of taking $4.9 million from the rainy day (or emergency surplus) fund, along with tax increases of 2.7 percent for homeowners and 7.7 percent for commercial properties and the reduction of 17 positions, while increasing spending on a plethora of initiatives in order to balance the budget.

The Choolokian plan would have eliminated all of Dyster's proposed tax hikes for businesses and homeowners, close most of the budget gap and save most jobs Dyster proposed to cut.

But the council majority was predetermined to raise taxes by two percent.

In order to avoid the tax increases called for in Dyster’s proposed budget Choolokian, who served as the council chairman in 2013, proposed cutting $3.1 million from the mayor’s spending and use $1.9 million in casino funds to replace expenditures in the general fund.

It remains to be seen how many of these cuts Dyster will veto and weather the council will override any veto.

Choolokian however made a strong call to keep his budget cuts intact.

“If not curbed, the spending habits of the Dyster administration will result in tax hikes, jobs lost, and services threatened, yet there is no slowdown of hiring consultants, proposing questionable projects, and pursuing unnecessary spending,” Choolokian said.

The city council was given the Dyster budget proposal on Nov. 7, three days after Election Day, and 37  days later than called for in the city’s charter. The mayor has not explained the reason for the late delivery of his budget.

After Choolokian proposed using $1.9 million in casino cash to restore jobs and avoid tax increases, Dyster said he would refer it to the law department since "casino cash is supposed to be used only for economic development.”

However, over the past seven years, the Dyster administration spent casino funds on items that are not generally considered “economic development” such as awarding cash to not for profits like Isaiah 61 and Community Missions, and tree trimming, pothole patching, fire and police equipment, police pay, police computers, cars for Code Enforcement and paving city hall's parking lot.

“I am suggesting we use a limited portion of casino funds to avoid layoffs and tax increases," said Choolokian.  "This will allow us to plan for a long-range fix to this city’s dismal fiscal picture.”

Choolokian also recommended that city jobs that become vacant at year’s end due to retirement be closed out and then realized as a savings for 2015.

The Dyster administration has offered retirement incentives last month that will pay city employees who agree to leave before the end of the year $20,000 over five years to reduce payroll costs. Newer employees will move into