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DEC 10 - DEC 17, 2015

Dyster's Budget Passed With no Oversight by Council, Media, Public

By Mike Hudson

DEC 10, 2015

The 2015 budget was hotly debated by the council and the mayor. The 2016 budget passed with nary a word. From left to right Councilmembers Kristen Grandinetti, Andrew Touma and Charles Walker.
Glenn Choolokian, usually a vocal advocate for cutting expenses, was quiet during the 2016 budget process.

Here’s some news.

The Niagara Falls City Council approved Mayor Paul Dyster’s proposed 2016 budget at a November 17 work session.

The budget was passed without the benefit of public debate and the usual numerous public meetings.

The work session at which the budget was passed was called to order at 4:05 p.m. and adjourned at 4:07 p.m. That’s right, the Council spent just two minutes passing the most important legislation it will be called upon to review all year.

This year, there was a meeting on November 2, at which Dyster presented his budget, one work session on November 9, at which the Council introduced seven resolutions, and another eight days later at which the budget was passed. The minutes for the November 9 meeting do not say what the seven resolutions were.

The Council put more time in at the November 9 meeting, exactly one minute more. The meeting was called to order at 4:03 p.m. and adjourned at 4:06. There were seven resolutions to pass, after all.

Minutes for all three meetings note the presence of city Corporation Council Tom O’Donnell, however, a presence that lends a sense of legality to what might otherwise be construed as almost backroom budget passage.

No members of the media were noted in the minutes, nor were any members of the public present. In past years, the budget debate is front page news and various interest groups use the public meetings to lobby for their causes.

This year, the vote was unanimous, 4-0, with the late councilman, Bob Anderson, not present for the meeting due to illness. Councilman Glenn Choolokian, who lost to Dyster by fewer than 70 votes in the Democratic mayoral primary, and had been widely seen as the spoiler in the general election with a write in candidacy that some say handed Dyster a victory over Republican John Accardo - with Dyster winning with just 47 percent of the vote, went along with the majority.

In years past, Choolokian has been an outspoken critic of every budget proposed by Dyster, offering a raft of amendments and working furiously to cut expenses.

His silence concerning the budget of 2016 and the circumstances surrounding its passage has City Hall, has insiders commenting on the strange turn of events.

Also of interest is that the budget was quietly passed 13 days before the city’s Financial Review Board issued its’ final report on November 30. It is unknown whether the board members, who spent a year preparing the report that was to ostensibly have guided the Council on the 2016 budget, were even aware the budget had already been passed.

The 278-page, $102.3 million spending plan that the City Council spent five minutes publicly working on in their two meetings won’t result in a tax increase and apparently makes no provision for the $7.4 million shortfall that will have to be made up with revenue from the city’s local share of slot machine revenue from the Seneca Niagara Casino.

A citywide reassessment lawmakers are pushing for next year may take up the slack and result in tax increases for Niagara Falls home and business owners.

Calls to Dyster and Choolokian were not returned as of presstime.

As of now, the only place where one can discover that next year’s budget has already been passed by the Council and adopted by the administration is the city’s official website,

 The proposed and adopted budgets are at the top of the left hand column.

We are left this week with several questions.

How did the Council debate and discuss Dyster’s proposed 2016 budget when records exist only for five minutes at which a quorum of Council members were present?

What were the seven amendment resolutions passed by the Council on November 9?

Why was the budget passed before the city’s Financial Review Board released its’ recommendations?

If the Financial Review Board knew the budget had already been passed, why didn’t board Chairman Carmen Granto mention it in the several interviews he did after issuing the report on November 30?






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