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JULY 28 - AUGUST 04, 2015

Facts are Facts Seneca , Albany Wins Big, Dyster is Small

By Avner Benyamin

JULY 28, 2015

Spin-off? Think well on this: This property is right across the street from the Seneca Casino.

The Seneca Niagara Casino has earned for its wealthy owners, the Seneca Nation of Indians, billions of dollars with its gaming, restaurants, and hotel on 52 acres of what was formerly downtown Niagara Falls.

The Seneca Nation doesn't pay taxes, as opposed to the surrounding businesses which do and which must compete against the Seneca tax free businesses.

Under the compact between the Seneca Nation and New York State, the state receives 25 percent of the "slot" machine profits at the casino.

The city gets 25 percent of the state's 25 percent.

The current property taxes all residents of Niagara Falls pay is $29 million per year.

The total casino revenue Niagara Falls gets is about $18 million per year.

The casino money could practically eliminate property taxes, as Maria Brown, the city controller, told WZRZ last week.

But she and Mayor Paul Dyster were quick to state that will not happen under their watch.

"Could we take that money and just say, let's use it to lower property taxes? No we can't," said Brown, explaining state law defines how casino funds can be used.

"It's like a poor person having a rich uncle that sets up a trust fund for them but that can only be used for certain purposes," explained Dyster to WGRZ.

But is it true? 

Under common law provisions of home rule, if this city really wanted to use casino money for reducing taxes, instead of cricket fields, penguin habitats and Hard Rock concerts, the state would likely have to go along since, after all, the law was crafted for Niagara Falls and its use and benefit.

Besides who says that reducing taxes is not economic development anyway?

State law H-99-3 does not define economic development. It only requires the city use casino money for economic development leaving the city itself to determine what is and what is not economic development.

That is why Dyster has used the money for things that could hardly be called in economic development. The term was meant to be elastic.

When Brown and Dyster say they cannot use casino money for reducing taxes, it is because they don’t want to use it for reducing taxes.

They want to use it for Boundary Waters Treaty celebrations, art contests for the traffic circle on Rainbow Blvd., Blues Festivals, and more affordable housing.  

They paved city hall’s parking lot with $500,000 of casino money, gave $150,000 to Community Mission to pay a tax lien, half a million on a rehab of an old firehouse for a not for profit whose Executive Director was just leaving town; they spent it on Holiday Markets, Hard Rock Concerts, and millions on behests to various not for profits meant to accomplish one thing: Get Mayor Paul Dyster grateful votes.

How any of that is economic development and reducing taxes is not is hard to fathom. And their method hasn't worked either.

There has been no economic development. The money has been simply frittered away.

As WGRZ pointed out in their series about Niagara Falls last week, “(D)espite collecting close to $200 million from the casino, supposedly for its betterment, the city's population has continued to shrink, its poverty level has increased, taxes have risen.”

When WGRZ asked how that happened, Dyster replied, "It's like you got a raise at work. But it's not like you won the lottery."

A $200 million raise.

Dyster added, "it's not like doubling the amount of the city budget."

But it is.

WGRZ put Dyster in his place, comparing him to a child with the big guys - the Seneca nation and the Governor.

WGRZ reported “With the original casino compact set to expire in 2016, some had hoped for a better deal for the city.

“Perhaps a larger cut, or a reduction of its required sharing.

“But those hopes vanished two years ago, when Governor Andrew Cuomo, to settle a dispute with the Seneca which had been withholding their payments to the state, summarily extended the original deal for another ten years, till 2023.

“In doing so, it left the city with no chance to make its case for an improved deal, at least for several more years.

“While Dyster insists the city was ‘privy’ to the negotiations between the New York State and the Seneca to settle their dispute, it is a far cry from having a seat at the table.

“Instead, it may have been more analogous to a quarreling couple, who sends their children to their rooms and instructs them not to come out until the parents are finished talking.

“While those children may well be privy to the discussion going on in the next room, they play no role in settling the dispute.”

Dyster did not like the analogy of being called a child by WGRZ.

But that’s what he was.

And because the people of Niagara Falls chose a child for a leader, they had no voice when the negotiations were being done by the adults - Cuomo and Seneca President Barry Synder.

Everyone knows Niagara Falls should have gotten a better deal.  Thanks to Cuomo the city won’t for some time, if ever.

But don’t blame the child in the room, little Dyster.

He was too small to speak up and say Niagara Falls deserves more.  He was only 'privy' to the conversations.

He let the Seneca casino compact be extended for 10 years without one word of protest, without one word to the people of this city asking for their input.

The Niagara Falls Reporter thanks WGRZ for calling the little guy essentially a child.

But when it comes to spending Dyster is a born prince standing tall among spendthrifts.

When it comes to doing what is best for the people, taking the chance and the blows if necessary, you won’t find a guy any smaller than Paul, the guy who let the Seneca Albany compact get away for another decade without telling anyone we, the residents and businesses of Niagara Falls are entitled to more.


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