NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. -- There were some who wanted to pump the brakes.
“Maybe we need to hold off. Maybe we need to table that. Maybe we need to reconsider and look at our financial situation before we make that move,” says Niagara Falls resident Jamie Caldwell.
Caldwell was talking about the trio of proposed labor deals on the agenda before the Niagara Falls City Council on Monday night.
The agreements covered about 300 city employees. Two deals were for members of the United Steel Workers, without a new contract since 2013. The third was for non-union city workers.
The reason for hesitation is the serious budget crunch facing Niagara Falls city government. An audit by the state comptroller's office projects the city’s reserve fund will be wiped out by the end of next year, and a projected budget gap of $12-million in 2019.
The budgetary chaos is the result of the on-going dispute between the State of New York and the Seneca Nation. The Seneca Nation stopped paying a share of its casino revenue to state government, meaning the City of Niagara Falls is not getting its piece of that money.
And, despite multiple warnings not to rely on casino cash for day-to-day operations of city government, over the years, Niagara Falls has continued to use the money to plug its budget shortfalls.
To Ken Tompkins, the lone Republican member of the council, the situation is dire.
”We are in financial trouble with the casino money in limbo right now possibly to never come our way again. We really got to start to be looking at things and tighten our belt,” says Tompkins.
But Monday night all three labor agreements, which include pay raises, were passed by the council. All three deals got aye votes from a pair of council members up for re-election this year, Kristen Grandinetti and Andrew Touma.
“These folks work hard for a living. And I think they deserve a fair wage and they conceded with the city, worked with the city, to cut back on healthcare,” says Touma.
Grandinetti says, “The Steel Workers have been waiting a long time to get their contract settled. I’m going to sleep just fine tonight knowing that I did this.”