September 28, 2010

Dyster Bracing Public for Bad Budget

We’ve been observers of the political game for a while, and we are able to translate political double-speak at will. Reading this pronouncement from Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, we are very confident that bad news is on its way:

“If people have been following what’s happening with the state in Albany they know there’s a lot of factors out there that are beyond our control and that we are going to have to somehow address with this budget,” Dyster said.

If you live in the City of Niagara Falls, be afraid. Be very afraid.

But don’t let Dyster buffalo you. Niagara Falls has long been playing a shell game with its finances. Earlier this month, City Comptroller Maria Brown, who appears to be in over her head, tried to pawn off coming financial hard times on the Indian tribes’ angry reaction to the Paterson Cigarette Tax, in a statement released by Dyster Spokesman Mark Scheer:

Brown said the city’s 2010 budget relies on 2009 casino cash revenues to cover a debt service increase of roughly $4.5 million. Brown said the city was still awaiting payment for its share of the 2009 casino revenue when Seneca leaders agreed on Monday to withhold future allocations because they felt state-approved gambling operations threatened their Western New York casino operations. Brown said the city has enough cash reserves to cover its debt service obligations through the end of the year, but would not have sufficient funds to do the same in 2011.

“You are looking at a $4.5 million cash-flow hardship that is put on the city,” she said.

Aside from the potential debt service problem, Brown said delays in payment of casino revenue would force the city to suspend activities supported with casino cash, including various road repair projects, Zoom Team cleanups, some demolitions and future concert series, including those produced in partnership with the Hard Rock Cafe. When it comes to those items, Brown said the city simply would not have enough revenue to cover them in the absence of casino cash.

“These are the things that the taxpayers can see and the things we benefit from,” Brown said. “These are the things I would advise the mayor that there’s no money for.”

Note that Building Inspector Dennis Virtuoso’s Saturday-overtime “Zoom Team cleanups” are part of the problem.

That being said, we can at least stomach the costly building inspections. What we can’t stomach is a city government whose finances are imploding paying some French guy $14,000 taxpayer dollars to walk on a tightrope. And mind you, this wasn’t an old-time death-defying stunt over Niagara Falls—this was over Old Falls Street. Not exactly awe-inspiring.

The problem for Niagara Falls residents, however, is that Dyster and Brown’s high-wire act is awe-inspiring, and, up until now, has been death-defying. When Dyster releases his budget (on a Friday, which is when politicians always release bad news) we have a feeling Falls residents are going to realize Dyster and Brown are working without a net.

Happy landings.

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