Niagara Gazette — The road to the 2013 city budget was long and winding. Thankfully we successfully reached the end of that road at the Dec. 10 city council meeting with the adoption of the 2013 budget.
The budget was a success when you consider how it began and where it eventually ended; It was 30 days late, millions of dollars in debt with cuts to services, layoffs and large tax hikes for homeowner and business. Our council took Mayor Paul Dyster’s 8.3 percent homeowner tax increase down to zero and we reduced the business tax while the mayor proposed raising it 5 percent.
The council’s work to prepare the 2013 budget was a joint effort that demonstrated what can be accomplished when elected officials practice cooperation instead of confrontation. I want to thank council members Bob Anderson, Glenn Choolokian and Charles Walker for working in a continuous spirit of genuine cooperation.
A major bone of contention during the budget preparation was the city’s financial support of USA Niagara. The question of this subsidy was unfortunately turned into a debate as to the merits of USA Niagara’s projects and effectiveness. The fact is that with the casino revenue gone (temporarily if not permanently) the city isn’t in a position to subsidize any agency no matter how they perform. When we’re having difficulty paying the bills, and casino revenue has been eliminated, we cannot in good conscience put the taxpayers on the hook for another $3.1 million.
With 2012 coming to a close I’d like to take a moment to review the significant accomplishments of the 2012 Niagara Falls City Council.
In March we took steps to ban the importation, treatment and handling of hydraulic fracturing waste water in the city. This council ban was recognized positively by environmental leaders across the region and state. This “fracking water ban” was an historic moment for Niagara Falls. With this law our city showed the nation that Niagara Falls refuses to become a dumping ground for the hydraulic fracturing industry.
The council fully supported Nik Wallenda in his dream to walk above our waterfall. In return Nik put us on the map with his incredible daring. Niagara Falls, a legendary natural attraction, is now forever linked to Nik Wallenda, a legendary high-wire artist.
Because political party bickering on any government level stifles good ideas the city council reached across the aisle to state representatives this year to support the Wallenda walk, to address the casino revenue issue and to change the outdated signage laws in our State Park and downtown.
The council formed an ad hoc casino gaming committee early in the year to communicate with Albany. Obviously we aren’t in a position to solve the casino problem but we have stayed in contact with our state representatives and Governor Cuomo’s office regarding the issue. We are patiently, and hopefully, waiting for good news to come from the state-Seneca casino arbitration.
Other less dramatic but important steps were taken by the council in areas such as: The implementation of a landlord licensing program that generated revenue while organizing rental property data; the negotiation of a contract for operation of the Hyde Park Hockey Arena that will generate $100,000 in city income; improving the vending code; the diversification of the Niagara Falls Library Board along with the restoration of library funding that the mayor eliminated for 2013; and, placing a moratorium on the growth of pawn shops.
With a tight budget year on the horizon we’re going to consider steps to raise new revenue while carefully accounting for all budget dollars. In this regard we are going to: consider setting a registration fee for demolition contractors; carefully review the bed tax dollars awarded to the NTCC; and, audit the bed tax and cable television revenues.
With a continued spirit of cooperation among the city council, and bipartisan communication with state representatives, I have confidence that we can successfully deal with the challenges of the coming year.
Sam Fruscione is the city council chairmanSam Fruscione is the city council chairman