NIAGARA FALLS, NY — Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster presented the city's budget Friday evening.
The city is facing a potential fiscal crisis with the Senecas and New York State still in a stalemate over casino revenue. Dyster called the dispute the "800-pound gorilla in the room" and continues to call on the two sides to resolve the matter.
Dyster proposed a budget with no layoffs, but it does call for a 2.6 percent tax rate increase for residential properties, 14 percent for business and commercial properties.
Dyster noted the alternative would have been to lay off some 30 city employees.
"This budget is dramatically different than the one I had hoped to present, and comes amid conflict," said Dyster, again referencing the stalemate between the state and the Seneca Nation, which has resulted in a halt to millions of dollars in revenue sharing to the city.
Dyster said that while he is optimistic the dispute will be settled and that the city will be made whole, he is not including future casino payments as an item of revenue in the budget.
The administration has been criticized, notably by the Office of the New York State Comptroller, for relying too much on casino revenues to plug budget gaps in prior years.
However, in his address to the City Council, Dyster appeared to lay part of the blame for the city's current fiscal crunch at the feet of those lawmakers, insisting that had they approved the tax hikes he had proposed in prior years, the city would not need to make such a major adjustment in its tax rates now.
Instead, casino revenues were used by lawmakers in their review of the budget to stave off those tax hikes.
"The party's over," Dyster said.
Dyster is also proposing the Department of Community Development be merged with the Department of Code Enforcement, on a trail basis, which he says if successful, could initially save the city $100,000.
As well, he announced a plan to try and save money at the city's Hyde Park Golf Course by shifting the duties of several full time unionized employees who maintain the course during the summer, and having their jobs done by seasonal workers instead.