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JULY 15 - JULY 23, 2014

Community Missions Budget Crunch A Perfect Storm of Bad Financial Luck

By Mike Hudson

July 15, 2014

Community Missions provides food and shelter to the indigent. It sparked controversy when the city gifted it $150,000 in casino cash.

A $400,000 tax judgment combined with a Workers Compensation claim of $531,000 amounted to a double dose of trouble for one of the city’s oldest charities, and a change in the way the state handles its payments for mental health services pushed the financial picture at Community Missions of Greater Niagara Inc. to the breaking point.

 Last week, the Niagara Falls City Council, by a 3-2 vote, moved to give Community Missions a “one time” gift of $150,000 to help get them over the hump.

 “We’re trying to do the responsible thing,” said Robyn Krueger, CEO of Community Missions.  “No one was enriched by this.”

 Krueger said that payments from the state for mental health services have fallen from $800,000 a year to $240,000 a year since 2010. The organization was faced with the choice between paying taxes or providing services, Krueger said.

 “In 2011 we stopped paying payroll tax and cut $1 million from our budget,” she told the Niagara Falls Reporter. “It is what it is.”

Executive Director Robyn Krueger argues that giving money to a homeless shelter that feeds the poor is at least as good a use of public money as subsidizing concerts and artist at the NACC.


  Krueger was actually held responsible for the tax. Her board of directors, which includes Niagara Falls Police Supt. Brian DalPorto, former Niagara Falls Democratic Committee Chairman Michael Lewis, were not.

 “They needed someone to hold responsible,” she said. “So it was me.”

 A presence in Niagara Falls for nearly a century, Community Missions has never before taken money from the city. The largest non-governmental provider of basic human services in the county, the organization has been seeking help for the better part of the year. 

 “This was something we were discussing as far back as April,” Krueger said. “Actually, the IRS has been pretty reasonable, and as long as we keep making our payments we’re going to be OK.”

 The Workers Compensation judgment was the result of Community Missions’ association with an administrator called the CRISP Trust, which was declared insolvent by the state and forced to go out of business in 2010.

 State officials initially said Community Missions owed $122,000 in Workers Compensation payments, but revised the assessment upward, first to $351,000 and then to $531,000, Krueger said.

Combined with the cutbacks in mental health payments and the tax liens, a perfect storm of financial woe resulted.

“I thought to myself, how much more can happen?” Krueger said. “It literally got to the point where we could feed people or pay taxes.”

 The financial crunch led Community Missions officials to cut the number of employees from 195 to 135 and jettison $1 million from the current operating budget.

A scheduled May fundraiser was canceled because of the crisis, Krueger said.

“We just didn’t have the time to devote to it,” she said. “Everything we had was going toward dealing with the problem.”

Krueger said she is particularly stung by criticism she and her organization have received since last week.

“The blogs have been brutal. I can tell you that no one was enriched by any of this, no one profited and the whole thing’s been a disaster,” she said. “We deal with mentally ill, homeless people. When the police pick someone like that up, where do you think the bring them? They bring them to us.”

On any given night, Krueger said, the 47 beds at the mission are full, and an additional 150 people are in housing provided by 85 landlords the organization regularly works with.

“Where are these people supposed to go?” she said.


Did she really say that? 
Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti, explaining her vote to grant Community Missions of Niagara, a homeless shelter and food kitchen, $150,000 of casino money, said this: "If someone is looking to buy property in this city and they see our mentally ill, our poor and our indigent on the streets, it's not something that's going to be appealing."






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