Previous Administration to Blame for 2021 Budget Disaster in Niagara Falls?

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Niagara Falls City Hall

 

Restaino Needs More Time to Prepare 2021 Budget; Revenues Down Inherited Expenses Up

 

By: Staff Reporter

During a council meeting on September 16, Mayor Robert M. Restaino alerted the council that submission of the proposed 2021 budget would be “delayed” as his administration continues to try to develop a realistic budget. 

 The delay prompted Restaino to release a public statement on the budget via social media on Monday, September 28th, 2020. 

 He said:

“The city is facing a multi-million dollar deficit as we prepare the 2021 budget. It would be easy to say that it is all a consequence of the pandemic- however, that would be incorrect at best, and disingenuous at worst.

“This is the consequence of past administration failures to budget properly with recurring revenue streams, instead of relying on casino revenue, for budget support.

“Past council approved budgets have set us up for the difficulties we now face by using fund balance reserves to plug budget gaps, leaving little or no reserves and destroying our credit rating. City departments are already understaffed for the amount of work required. 

“Previously negotiated and approved labor contracts did not take into account the failed method of the previous administration’s budget development.

 

Niagara Falls Mayor Robert M. Restaino

 

“Going back to 2013, Niagara Falls was ‘carrying’ a structural deficit based on failure to keep expenses in line with collected revenue.”

Restaino is right. He inherited this budget shortfall. And even without the pandemic, it would have still been there.

The New York State Comptroller’s Office recently named Niagara Falls as the only municipality in Western New York that is under “significant” financial stress.

The Refuse Fee (aka Garbage User Fee) was supposed to help Niagara Falls avoid layoffs in public safety. It remains to be seen if this will be the case. 

The fee was originally proposed under the administration of Mayor Paul Dyster and approved by the City Council in November 2019, one month before Dyster left office. 

It will be nothing short of a miracle for the current Mayor to undo the spending legacy of Mayor Dyster. During his administration, he took in about $200 million in casino cash, while somehow plunging the city into deepening debt and increased expenses, basing much of his spending plans on  casino revenue.

Dyster also stood silently by when Gov. Andrew Cuomo renewed the Seneca Compact and failed to secure an agreement for payment to the state or city from the Senecas.

It is sadly ironic. Dyster had some $200 million in extra funds from the Senecas, and built a part of his administration’s structural spending on it. Then when it came time to renew the compact, Dyster did not ensure that the city would continue to be paid the Seneca money it had come to depend upon..

The previous mayor,  fiscal conservative, Vince Anello, left a surplus of about $35 million when he left office, money that Dyster also dissipated.

During the 12 years of the Dyster administration, there was, in addition to normal property tax, sale tax and state aid revenues, the whopping additional $200 million paid by the Senecas. 

Dyster used that money to grow the cost of government.

Now the Restaino administration has inherited this legacy of increased costs without the casino money.

On top of that, the pandemic came in Restaino’s first few months in office and devastated much of the business and tourist revenue in this city, cutting revenue further and widening the deficit as the city’s share of the sales tax waned.

If Mayor Restaino can manage to put forward a budget that the city can pay for and without raising taxes inordinately, it will be nothing short of a miracle.

A reasonable delay in putting this budget together is warranted.

 


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