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DEC 09 - DEC 17, 2014

Council Shuns State Financial Guidance, Will Go It Alone

By Tony Farina

December 09, 2014

Councilman Glenn Choolokian, who many see as the next mayor of Niagara Falls, said absolutely not- to the proposed taxpayer -funded Hard Rock New Year’s Eve party.

It looks like the City of Niagara Falls will continue to go it alone in dealing with its mounting fiscal problems as the City Council voted 3 to 2 Monday night against tapping into the State Restructuring Board designed specifically to help distressed cities like Niagara Falls cope with financial challenges.

"It's a shame," said Councilman Andy Touma who along with Councilmember Kristen Grandinetti voted in favor of the mayor's request to allow the city to join the board. "I don't know what it's going to take," said a clearly frustrated Touma after the vote. "We're obviously eligible and I believe it our responsibility to do whatever we can to bring some stability. It is not a good day for Niagara Falls."

Voting against accepting help from the Financial Restructuring Board were Councilmembers Glenn Choolokian, Bob Anderson, and Council President Charlie Walker who indicated he wants the city to do more to fix its own problems even though that effort hasn't been working as structural deficits have become a way of life in the city, triggering tax hikes, threats of layoffs, and smaller reserves.

Touma has been pushing for the council to approve getting guidance and oversight from the state since he joined the council last January. The measure failed when it was first presented to the council last year and was dropped from consideration earlier this year when the mayor didn't believe he had the votes for approval. .

Touma was hopeful that this time the council would accept the idea of having unbiased oversight from the Restructuring Board to help hold the administration accountable and lead to better decision-making when it comes to fiscal matters. He had even met with city unions, along with Councilmember Anderson, to assure them the council would not make any decisions on fiscal matters without their consent. But despite his efforts, the measure failed again.

The freshman lawmaker has said a number of distressed cities have joined the board, including most recently Lockport, and he sees no reason why the City of Niagara Falls has declined an opportunity to get much needed financial guidance from the experts.

"I think having another set of eyes to possibly see where you can tighten things up makes sense," he had told the Reporter earlier this year and again on Monday. Despite the end of the gaming crisis, the city still faces rising health care and pension costs along with dangerously low reserves.

The Restructuring Board was set up by the governor to help distressed cities by conducting comprehensive financial reviews and offering recommendations and strategies, and in some cases grants and/or loans of up to $5 million under certain conditions. But Touma had emphasized to his fellow lawmakers that the Restructuring Board is not a control board, and the city would have the right to opt out of any conditions it felt were counterproductive. But his push fell short.

Choolokian has said in the past he believes the bid by the mayor to join the board was an attempt to get concessions from the unions that would be politically difficult for him to get on his own.

But Touma argues the city could benefit from the relationship and the guidance from the financial experts who would be working with the city on fixing the recurring structural deficits. It remains to be seen if Dyster will try again.

Mayor Pulls Hard

Rock Guitar Drop Ask

In other action at Monday night's council session, the mayor pulled his request for $27,000 to cosponsor the Hard Rock's New Year's Eve Guitar Drop.

"The timing for that certainly isn't right, with the city facing the tax problems it is facing," said Councilmember Andrew Touma who had planned to oppose the appropriation.

Councilmember Glenn Choolokian was also opposed, saying in a statement that the city has a history of reckless spending and instead of changing the pattern "this current administration ….has brought the city spending of casino money, tourism funds, and Community Development money to a higher wasteful level. Now with a tax increase put in place by the mayor and the council majority this administration now wants to give a multi-million dollar corporation, the Hard Rock Café, $27,000, for their New Year's Eve guitar drop. When will it stop?"


Councilmen Charles Walker (L) and Andrew Touma (R) normally vote together. On the restructuring board they made a departure. Touma for, Walker against....






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