City Council Drama in Niagara Falls

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Niagara Falls City Council

 

Tompkins Under Fire After User Fee Vote.

Touma Defends Council Vote. 

Kennedy Says Nothing Left to Cut.

Voccio Slams Vote But Put Forward No Proposed Cuts / Amendments.

By: Tony Farina

Niagara Falls Councilman Kenny Tompkins continues to feel the heat for his vote in favor of a garbage user fee last month although in reality, lawmakers had little choice in dealing with a $4.1 million budget deficit other than passing the fee or laying off dozens of police and fire officers that would have potentially comprised public safety.

“We have a job to do and nobody proposed any deep cuts,” said Council Chairman Andrew Touma in explaining why he was one of three lawmakers to support approving the user fee, joining Republican Tompkins and fellow Democrat William Kennedy.  “There was really nothing left.  It was recommended by our financial restructuring board which didn’t recommend 50 cuts in public safety.”

“I didn’t propose any cuts because no one would have voted for them but me,” said Republican Councilman Chris Voccio.  “We cut about $300,000 out of a $99 million budget, or about zero percent.  We’re playing tiddledywinks.  Maybe next year it will be different.”

Voccio, a strong conservative who believes the city needs to cut spending to reduce deficits, and that means taking on city unions, will be joined in the new council come January by another strong conservative, John Spanbauer, who agrees with Voccio that the city must be run like a business and not spend what it doesn’t have.

Unfortunately for Tompkins, he is bearing the brunt of voter unhappiness over the new user fee but, as Touma pointed out, it was a last resort to close the budget deficit or face even greater financial problems going forward that could further undermine the city’s credit rating, already trending downward.

Tompkins points out the garbage user fee could eventually be rescinded, but unless Mayor-elect Robert Restaino comes up with a magic money-making formula in his consolidation efforts, it could be a long time before the city takes that fee out of the budget and makes ends meet, even with the resumption of Seneca money which is still not a certainty.

For Tompkins, a broad-shouldered, hardworking city lawmaker, the choices are not easy, and it would appear he was doomed if he did or didn’t vote for the fee because he was the tie-breaker all along.

Tompkins held his powder for as long as he could, but when push came to shove, he sided with Touma and Kennedy in voting for the fee instead of deep cuts to public safety.  In his defense, at this point, as Touma argues, there was really little choice.

The argument could be made it never should have gotten to this point, but it did and there is no going back to reshuffling the deck to undo years of bad decision-making.

The city is in a bad place financially, and it will take the council working together with the new mayor to find ways to reduce costs, raise new revenues, and replenish the reserve fund to satisfy the Wall Street credit rating agencies.

It is time to work together, and finger-pointing about past mistakes and spilled milk won’t get it done.  What’s done is done, but perhaps 2020 will usher in a new era of smart decision-making and everybody, including the poor taxpayers, will benefit.

 

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