RESTAINO: Working Together to Overcome Challenges and Make Great Changes to the City

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Niagara Falls City Hall

 

By: Robert M. Restaino

Mayor of Niagara Falls

Reviewing the first six months of our administration, it has clearly been a time of challenge.

A simple review of the headlines paints the picture that Niagara Falls and many other cities across the state, and nation, have had to address. Entering office, I knew that our budget was a fragile document, which going forward, would need a steadier hand and clearer direction to move Niagara Falls into a better financial place.

I realized that the Community Development Department had been without leadership, was floundering in misspent funds, incomplete documentation, unfulfilled “promises” and constant rebuke from US Housing and Urban Development officials.

Simply put, the “financial house” of the city had to get some order. In the first several weeks, steps were immediately taken to clear up unpaid debts, provide structure and training, develop a dependable process and give linear direction to the finances of the city.

I am, and continue to be, confident that the new administration under the departmental guidance of the new and experienced City Administrator, city government will continue to work to achieve a sound fiscal picture for city government.

In those first two months my office discussed with state representatives new avenues for revenue for our city, explored development partnerships with entities previously antagonistic with each other and with city government, as well as reimagining city government, across all platforms, to find efficiencies through collaboration.

In a few short weeks all of that was halted as the pandemic hit New York State like a lightning bolt and the economy was shut down, government stalled as state officials looked to address the public health crisis and, as the virus spread, the border to Canada was closed further increasing the strain locally.

All of this created incredible challenges for City Hall; we needed to forecast revenue losses and determine how to manage that against our budgeted expenses. While we hoped to partner with our city unions, that never occurred, as many officials told us to wait for federal relief which they said would arrive “by Memorial Day”.

Well Independence Day just passed and obviously their prediction was incorrect.

 

Mayor Robert M. Restaino.

 

We worked to cut expenses within the executive office, shifted positions in departments to achieve savings, took advantage of some government relief offered due to the pandemic and, unfortunately, had to cut certain programming. All these efforts have put us in a position to work through the balance of the year, assuming there are no other unforeseen revenue disruptions.

Despite the incredible challenge associated with our finances, there have been great opportunities that have come from our time looking at how government operates. During these past 90 days we have entered into discussions with other governmental entities to bring forward the collaborative agreements on which I campaigned. While talks are progressing, we still have details to iron out; and once achieved, these new partnerships can be the beginning of a more efficient, cost effective and cooperative form of service delivery for our community. These agreements will eliminate structural redundancies and provide cost savings.

In the middle of the fight to cut expenses, we also forged a new relationship between city government and not for profit groups to provide expanded youth programming and have set the stage for further partnerships and expanded programming. Another example of how “in crisis there is opportunity.”

While it was a difficult decision to make regarding youth programs, I am proud of the way our administration met the challenge; and not only solved the issue, but we will provide expanded programming options.

As you know, the country not only faced financial crisis with unemployment and small businesses shut down due to the pandemic, but we have also had a social justice reckoning in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Again, Niagara Falls was not immune from the frustration that gripped the country.

I am happy and proud to say that those community members that chose to publicly show their frustration  did so in a manner that didn’t reflect the unchecked violence and destruction that marred the message and call for social reform.

In addition, our law enforcement professionals handled themselves with the dignity and professionalism in which they were trained and which I, and others, expected. During those weeks, Niagara Falls showed how the message could be delivered and received without the unnecessary distraction of violence and destruction.

The message was indeed received, and I am proud of the community leaders that have volunteered their time to serve on the city’s SOCIAL JUSTICE COMMISION which I announced a few weeks ago. This group will look at social inequality across various aspects of community life and provide a road map for change. 

I look forward to their final report and the work ahead.

While our local economy has reopened and the challenges of what lies ahead continue to be reviewed, I am pleased with the work we have done to get to this point.  Certainly there is more to be done (roads to repave, parks to maintain and general city cleanup), but I will again ask, as I did at the time of my swearing in six months ago, as residents of the city, let’s all do our part in keeping our properties and our neighborhoods clean. Each of us working together can bring great change to the city.

Be a part of that change.

 

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