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JAN 20 - JAN 28, 2015

Touma: City Needs Casino Spending Plan

By Tony Farina

January 20, 2015

Council Chairman Andrew Touma wants plan for casino $.

Maybe the new Niagara Falls fiscal advisory panel should recommend the city opt into the governor’s Financial Restructuring Board, something the council has resisted despite the growing fiscal crisis the city is facing. At least the governor’s panel could offer grants and loans of up to $5 million along with its recommendations, and that seems like a no-brainer for a city struggling to stay afloat.

But that’s not an option at this point and new Council Chairman Andy Touma is hopeful that his brainchild, the citizen advisory panel (which will have no money), will help the city navigate the deepening waters of the fiscal crisis that got a little deeper last week when the city controller warned in a letter to lawmakers and the mayor that the downward trend of casino payments to the city is continuing.

In her letter, Controller Maria Brown reminded officials that total casino revenue dropped $1.451 million in 2013 from 2012, and is on pace to decrease by $1.494 million for 2014 based on the three-quarter total to date, and the third quarter “is usually the largest amount since it makes up the months of the most travelers.” The Niagara Falls Reporter has warned of diminishing casino returns for several months.

“It’s a concern,” said Touma about the downward trend. “We have to do a better job of prioritizing how to spend casino money, and we’ve got to get a bigger return on our economic development projects. We need to learn how to do more with less.”

Touma is hopeful that the new citizen advisory panel comprised of financial experts will be able to help the city through this challenging time. He said the council is accepting resumes and he is hoping to have possibly as many as four members selected in two weeks. He’s hoping to eventually have a total of seven public-minded citizens who will serve on the panel to help the city through the current crisis which includes increasing personnel costs, a shrinking tax base, and a dangerously thin reserve fund.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster spent $707,000 of casino cash on concerts for Hard Rock.

Regarding the casino shortfall, Touma said “we need a strong, long-term plan moving forward on how to spend that money [casino payments], and I haven’t seen any vision yet.”

When it comes to spending casino cash, a bone of contention between some lawmakers and the administration, Touma said in his mind if the casino money can be used to help lower taxes that would possibly encourage people and businesses to come to Niagara Falls, a kind of economic development if you will. It may require changes in state law, said Touma, and he believes the compact can be reopened in 2017, allowing for expanded use of the casino cash as a recurring revenue stream. That could be an important mission for the local Albany delegation to take on, prompted by city leaders.

Touma also believes USA Niagara, the state’s development agency in Niagara Falls, could possibly push for expanded use of the casino cash to help the city better deal with its challenges and spur development. He also thinks the state should pony up possibly as much as two-thirds of an $8 million downtown development competition backed by Gov. Cuomo that currently has the city on the hook for $4 million.

For our readers who want to see the numbers, according to the controller the city’s share of casino payments in 2012 was $21.5 million and $20.1 million in 2013. If her calculations are correct based on the numbers to date, the revenue for 2014 will dip again.







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©2014 The Niagara Falls Reporter Inc.
POB 3083, Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14304
Phone: (716) 284-5595

Publisher and Editor in Chief: Frank Parlato
Managing Editor: Dr. Chitra Selvaraj
Senior Editor: Tony Farina