NIAGARA FALLS, NY-- A New York State office called Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments has offered some new recommendations for the struggling city of Niagara Falls to help them save money.
The board found that the Cataract City suffers from low housing values, as well as having one of the highest property tax rates in the state.
The board also found that while the city does receive revenue from the Seneca Nation Gaming compact, that revenue has been declining over recent years.
To help combat costs, the board recommends that the city and county combine services, like civil service and dispatch services.
They also recommend that the city consolidate city-wide purchasing, merge the Engineering department with the Public Works Department, merge the Planning and Environmental Services into Community Development and, reassess all opportunities to create additional revenue.
The board also reviewed the city's police department. They say that the department currently operates at 4 on- 2 off work schedule, which costs the city $1.1 million in lost hours per year. Command staffing per shift is slightly higher than comparable cities, and could save up to $300,000 per/year with attrition.
The board says the city receives only 1.1% of healthcare costs from employees, a 15% increase could save the city $1.3 million per year.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster says he welcomed the report and says some of the suggestions for cost savings are on the agenda at City Hall or already set in motion. He also defended the use of general fund reserves for some items. Dyster says he feels that with some patience, the city can be put back on the right financial path.
City Councilman Kenny Thompson who is the sole Republican on the Council says he wants the city to rein in spending even citing his concern over the decision to spend $35,000 for the most recent Wallenda stunt at the Falls.
State Senator Robert Ortt also feels the potential loss of casino revenue from the Senecas will really hurt the city. Dyster says they are planning to work around it but does acknowledge it is a "significant" issue. The estimated $15 to 20 Million dollars in casino funding has been used for road repairs and other improvements in the city.