Seneca Niagara Casino, Niagara Falls, NY
NIAGARA FALLS, NY - Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster created a stir by recently suggesting that as long as the dispute between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York State lingered, the city might have to consider whether it could send fire protection to the Seneca Niagara Casino in the future.
The dispute has resulted in the Senecas withholding scheduled revenue sharing from its slot machines with the state, which was then supposed to send a portion of the money back to Niagara Falls.
After several years of withheld payments, the city is out close to $60 million and is reaching the brink of a fiscal disaster according to Dyster.
Dyster's remarks regarding fire service prompted a scathing response from Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter, who called the remarks irresponsible, while suggesting himself the city's frustration should be directed at the state instead.
A resolution drafted by two city Councilmembers, Sam Fruscione and Glenn Choolokian, seeks to put pressure on both sides.
It calls for the city to assess fees anytime its fire services were called to the casino,... but also to the state parks in Niagara Falls.
The resolution states:
"There shall be a fee for every call made to a specific location or address by the Niagara Falls Fire Department."
But the resolution goes on to state:
"The fees shall only apply to the Seneca Niagara Casino complex...Niagara Falls State Park, Whirlpool State Park, and Devils Hole State Park."
The resolution establishes a fee scale for various and services, from $148 per hour for every fire truck that might responded to the casino to investigate the odor of smoke... to up more than $500 per hour hour for a multi-apparatus gorge rescue in one of the state parks.
There are also fees set up for Public Works services provided by the city to both the Casino and the state parks, for such things as snow plowing or special events.
The resolution goes before the full City Council for an expected vote on Monday.
Choolokian told Two On Your Side he was too busy on Wednesday to answer our questions, and Fruscione did not return our phone call.
However, one of the lawmakers they will need to vote with them in order to get the resolution passed, did speak with us.
"I think the concept is good but I would have to review the entire document before I can pretty much say as to whether I support it," City Councilmember Charles Walker told WGRZ-TV.
If passed, the resolution would also eventually have to gain the signature of Dyster.
"The concept of recovering fees for services from entities that don't pay taxes or make payments in lieu of taxes, I think, is generally speaking a good government concept," said Dyster.
But Dyster was non-committal as to whether he'd sign off on the fees.
"It's a hypothetical question. I just saw the ordinance at lunch today, and it hasn't been discussed let a lone passed by city council as of yet," Dyster said.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Norm Fisher.
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