Falls Budget Includes Tax Hike, Job Cuts

5:05 PM, Nov 2, 2012   |    comments
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NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. - Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster unveiled his 2013 city budget today, one month later than originally expected.

The fiscal plan eliminates 28 full-time positions, which will result in 19 layoffs. 

But there's plenty of pain to go around. Residential property owners will see their taxes increase by 8.3 percent, and business owners face a 5 percent property tax increase.

WEB EXTRA: Click here to read Mayor Dyster's budget message, or click here to read his entire budget.

"I have consistently said that layoffs are the very last resort in trying to balance the budget, and my administration has managed to balance the budget without layoffs every year until now. But this time, the gap between revenues and expenses is simply too large," Dyster told an audience of city employees and citizens who came for the budget unveiling late Thursday afternoon.

No police officers or firefighters will lose their jobs next year, according to Dyster, due to the conditions of federal programs being utilized to fund those positions, and which prohibit reducing their ranks.

But he also warned that could change in the future.

"Many citizens regard public safety as the most essential of City services, and would expect their elected officials to cut just about anything else before making any cuts there," said Dyster.  "We got the message. But please note that the grant-imposed restrictions will not apply in future budget years."

Ferris Anthony, the President of the union which represents civil service employees for the city outside of the ranks of police and fire personnel, was upset by the announcement of layoffs.

"How many of those police officers are being paid with that grant money...five or ten? I don't know all the answers, but what I do know is that it should be fair across the board,and it's not," Ferris told WGRZ-TV.

In addition, a total of 82 seasonal positions will not be filled by the city, which Dyster said will sadly affect the quality of life of not only those workers, but also the residents they serve.

"These might not be full-time employees, but for many of these workers and families the money they earn as part-time City employees helps pay the rent, the car loan or a tuition bill. Included are the recreation aides for summer parks programs, seasonal golf course workers, the people who oversee night gym programs during the school year, and even the lifeguards who staff our public swimming pools. Also impacted are large numbers of seasonal workers who work on paving or clean-up crews, dramatically increasing our ability to deliver these services. We will try to be prepared to restore these jobs and services at the earliest possible opportunity should circumstances permit, but know that their loss strikes a blow at the quality of life of many of our citizens."

 Complicating the preparation of a spending plan was the lack of nearly $60 million of casino revenue due the city, which has been held up because of a dispute between the Seneca Nation and New York State.

"We generated over $10 million in savings through 2009 and 2010, so that even after using part of the funds for major paving and other capital projects, we started 2011 with approximately $20 million on hand to deal with emerging threats," said Dyster. "Confident as recently as last November that a resolution to the casino revenues impasse was imminent, we resolved to use these funds to cover for the missing casino revenues in paying debt service or bills for ongoing projects in order to keep these expenses off the backs of taxpayers. It was a great strategy-but we could not have predicted that the State-Seneca impasse would continue for three years, draining the City of its reserves and creating a full-blown cash flow crunch warning at the beginning of April of this year."

The City Council has set a public hearing on the budget for November 13th. Review sessions will follow on November 27th, 28th and 29th. They have until December 1st to make any changes and send the budget back to the Mayor, who then has five days to make any vetoes. The budget must be approved by December 15th.

Two city lawmakers told WGRZ-TV the tax hikes and job cuts were unacceptable.

"People in this city, many of them poor, can't afford that kind of an increase...and I can't go for it either," said Council Member Robert Anderson.

"We'll be looking carefully for what the Mayor may have kept for himself in the budget," said Council President Sam Fruscione, who is often critical of Dyster. "We're going to try and restore as many positions as possible and also reduce the tax burden," Fruscione said.

Follow Reporter Dave McKinley  on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2

WGRZ-TV, wgrz.com

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