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JULY 28 - AUGUST 04, 2015

Alicia Laible Says City Should Be Run More Like Private Business

By Mike Hudson

JULY 28, 2015

Alicia on a campaign trail.
Alicia Laible and her husband Eric

If it comes true, Alicia Laible’s dream of sitting on the Niagara Falls City Council may just make her the odd man out. She never worked for the Niagara Falls City School District, as have Council members Kristen Grandinetti, Andrew Touma and Bob Anderson, or, like Councilman Charles Walker, for a large public institution like Niagara Falls Memorial Center.

This distinction may, more than anything else, be behind her call to start running municipal government more like a private business, with the mayor as CEO and the city Council functioning as a kind of board of directors.

The attractive and vivacious 31-year-old works as director of business development for Elderwood Health Plan, a private health care company with an excellent reputation in the community. She holds a master’s degree in social work from SUNY Buffalo, and she and her husband Eric are expecting their first child in November.

This is her second city Council run. She lost narrowly to Councilman Glenn Choolokian four years ago. Choolokian is challenging Mayor Paul Dyster in this year’s Democratic mayoral primary.

In a wide ranging interview, Laible spelled out a number of her concerns, and explained how a businesslike approach might be effective in dealing with issues such as high taxes, the use of casino money and the right of the Council to know exactly what it is they’re voting on.

“I think we find ourselves in a really negative situation right now,” she said. “We have very high property taxes here and we have a dwindling population. We have fewer people to support the services that we need, and the size of our city geographically is not shrinking so we still have to support DPW to cover from one end to the other. So that is where we have to start getting creative and looking at our budget.  Are there ways that we are able to make reductions so we can either lower the taxes or at least find ways we do not definitely raise taxes either?”

One of the problems, Laible said, is the way union employee contracts are handled.

“We negotiate our public safety contracts in the past. That means the contract that ended in December we are signing in March,” she said. “That means we have to back date the pay for those. I cannot imagine a company having to do something like that.

“When I set my budget, I do it for four years forward and I am reviewing these monthly and at least quarterly on a very serious basis.  I think taking a look at the whole budgeting process should be something we are addressing throughout the whole year. We shouldn’t be kept in the dark on the City Council.” I think that is something we need more Public Input into- from a very basic standpoint that is something I would like to look at.”

City government in Niagara Falls should be more transparent to allow the shareholders – the taxpayers – to understand why decisions are being made, Laible added.

“I wish the government on all levels would do a better job of arming the public with the knowledge that they need to have a good idea of exactly what’s going on,” she said. “A public that is left in the dark is sometimes what people want so they are not able to react and make changes that really should be made.

“It is a very simple thing whether it’s a weekly column in a newspaper, anything where you say, ‘These are our plans, this is what we are doing, why we’re doing it, this is when you can come to speak on it.’ It is the same thing as when I have to present my quarterly budget to our Elderwood owners I don’t get to hide details. There is no leniency for trying to hide anything; that is grounds for being fired.”

The use of casino funds here is another thing that concerns her, she said. Nearly $200 million in revenue from the Seneca Niagara Casino has been squandered here without any noticeable improvement in the city.

“I think more of it can be diverted to things like infrastructure. So if you can divert more money to doing things like that it really is economic development in my opinion,” she said. “You must have a strong basis for businesses to come here and build. I mean you must literally have the ability to support an increase in traffic, more appealing logistics and things like that. So if you can divert more Casino funds to support something like that it opens your opportunities up to having more money so you can reduce taxes.”

Casino revenue should also be used to address what she called the “basic needs” of the city.

“I think that there is areas where we have been able to succeed in the use of the casino dollars and there are other areas where we have not,” Laible said. “I think we need to find a balance between investing in economic development initiatives, but also taking care of basic needs. At Eldercare I also run our transportation company, and I have to find a balance between replacing our aging vehicles as well as purchasing new ones to grow the company. It’s the same thing to me. You have to be able to find a way to fix and replace and provide those basic needs because without that you are going to fail as a city. So taking care of 72nd Street, taking care of the roads, fixing those basic things and making sure the money is going to that first and foremost and then looking at those extra initiatives is how we are going to tackle that.”

Laible said she would not be satisfied with the current city Council practice, begun with the moribund Hamister hotel project, of authorizing the mayor to sign contracts without the Council actually knowing what the contract calls for.

“I would want to see final contracts and what it was I am approving. Hamister is a good example. I am disappointed in the way that the contract was changed,” she said. “This happens all too often. I also believe in IDA call backs and if you are not living up to what your obligations are then you have to pay that money back in a way or we have to re-look at what it is that you are receiving. We would really benefit from some high end, street level retail in this area and that was something that was part of that original deal; it has been scaled back.”

Laible said she also has a lot of questions about the city’s new train station, particularly regarding ongoing maintenance costs.

“I know it is something that we are now going to be responsible for,” she said. I am a little bit disappointed the high speed rail did not go through, I think it is going to be a little bit harder to attract riders. I think with effective marketing we are going to be able to pull in more Canadians to that so now that we have this and have to maintain it we must make it sustainable and that we can operationalize it properly so we can ensure we have the right leases there.

 “I want to know not only how is it going to be operationalized effectively, how is it going to be sustained. It’s going to be built on a grant? That’s wonderful, but that is a one time amount of money. How is it going to be sustained? These are just the types of questions I would want to know.  In business development before I go out and say ‘yes let’s acquire this new business,’ you have to do that due diligence. You have to know not only what it is going to cost you upfront, but what are those hidden things are going to cost you as well.”


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