How has the casino revenue been abused, let us count the ways

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Mayor Paul Dyster has had a unique opportunity among mayors in the nation. He has had $183 million n casino revenue to spend to build up a city. Critics say he has squandered it. The result is a city that is worse than before he was first elected mayor in 2008

What do tree stump removal, police overtime, engineering consultants, penguins, pothole patching and the train station all have in common? They were all supported with casino revenue over recent years.

It’s strange, but true, that every one of these things – and a whole lot more – were deemed by mayor and council as meeting the casino revenue expenditure prime directive: The city share of casino revenue must be spent on matters directly related to economic development. While that Albany directive is on the books the observance of the directive has never been supported with a definitive written casino revenue spending policy. Consequently the definition of “economic development” remains unsettled and conveniently cloudy for the spendthrift Dyster administration.

The mayor has proposed more than $100 million in casino cash expenditures.  And he has consistently received council approval for those expenditures even though an examination as to the propriety of the spending has never taken place. Mayor Dyster has had more than eight years to formulate a transparent casino spending policy. Why hasn’t he done so? Why hasn’t the council demanded such a policy?

That being said we’re now going to take a brief look at some of the highlights – or lowlights – of only a small portion of the casino revenue spending that’s occurred in recent years.

In 2010 there was $286,000 in ice pavilion change orders, ZOOM Team $84,000, part time former city employee grant writer $30,000, economic development consultant $72,000, Blues Festival $20,000, Hard Rock concerts $179,500, library window blinds $5,568, library book drop $6,226, Greenway Wild Ones consultant $25,000.

2011 saw the pothole killer hired at $69,999, bridges painted at $163,060, $110,000 was directed to “downtown police and paddy wagon,” pothole zipper $110,000, 72nd Street fire hall roof $89,500, ZOOM project $83,704 and $180,053, Holiday Market $225,000, tree removal $75,000, Hard Rock concerts $150,000, New Year’s Eve Hard Rock concert $40,000, library fire alarm $18,295, business district coordinators $45,805.

In 2012 Hard Rock concerts $150,00, pothole killer returned at $140,000, Military Affairs Council $40,000, traffic signal and flashing light $80,000, DPW street openings $100,000.

2013 brought a Sal Maglie light tower repair $20,000, police vehicles and equipment $593,000, city computers $300,000, ice pavilion alarm $30,645, tree removal $75,000, DPW equipment $1,042,259, Wrobel Towers city parking lot poles $90,000, Custom House change order $105,662.

2014 rebid the train station at $350,000, city portion of train station $4 million, $341,266 for the police narcotics unit, $65,000 to a parking consultant, $2,124,449 for trash totes, $196,000 for the Zoom Team, $600,616 fire truck, $58,558 SWEET team, $100,000 Buffalo Ave landscaping, $659,810 Carnegie Building roof, $150,000 Community Missions, $468,720 city hall parking lot, $500,000 Isaiah 61 fire hall, $200,000 police overtime, $35,000 part time grant writer, $250,000 golf course clubhouse roof.

Spending continued in 2015, in part, with $50,000 for Centennial Circle, NFC grants and loans $670,000, 72nd Street water line repair $438,516, tree removal $129,204, USA Niagara payment $1.5 million, city hall phones $160,730, police cars $242,938, parking ramp security guards $92,400, $94,000 engineering consultant, skate park design $9,000, planning director stipend $12,645, part time grant writer $35,000, planning department wages $191,461, ZOOM $163,800, SWEET $21,235, Aquarium penguins $150,000.

While 2016 is not yet one month old the mayor and council recently committed $180,500 of casino cash for police vehicles.

The above is but a snapshot at how the casino revenue has been abused in recent years.  But it provides an accurate, if frightening, picture as to the illogical method in which the funds are expended as measured against the “economic development” prime directive. The money is spent randomly at the direction Mayor Dyster who last year proclaimed himself to be the casino revenue “gatekeeper.” With the mayor as gatekeeper and the rubber stamp council failing to do its job as the fiscal watchdog the city now finds itself in dire straits with the casino reserve account essentially empty and future casino revenue falling more each quarter.


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