By Justin Sondel email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — Mayor Paul Dyster is hoping to restore several positions and salaries that have been cut in recent years to the 2014 budget.
Dyster has included the restoration of a grant administrator position and a director of business development position and has returned the salaries of the city administrator and the city engineer to their original levels in his proposed budget for 2014, which he submitted to the city council on Oct. 1.
These positions and salaries were cut during the dispute between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York state over an exclusivity clause in the 2002 gaming compact between the two parties. During the four-year dispute the city was not receiving host community payments - 25 percent of slot machine revenues that averaged $19 million a year leading up to the log jam — and austerity became a common theme in city hall.
Now, with the dispute settled, Dyster hopes that council members will include the positions and restore the salary.
Dyster has attempted to restore funding for a grant administrator twice during the year unsuccessfully.
The position was eliminated by a council amendment during last year’s budget process. Dyster’s veto of the Grant Writing Consultant line was overturned, with only Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti voting to keep the $30,000 line.
Dyster has again included the line in his proposed budget for 2014, arguing that department heads have attempted to keep up with the grant administration work in their respective city offices, but have fallen behind.
Some council members, including Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian, said the city needed to try to get the work done without the help of an outside administrator.
Dyster said the city has tried that solution with poor results.
“It did not work,” he said.
Dyster attempted to restore the grant administrator consultant for the remainder of the year in may, submitting a resolution that would have paid a $15,000 stipend for six months worth of services.
That measure failed with Choolokian and Councilman Robert Anderson Jr. voting no and Grandinetti and Councilman Charles Walker voting yes.
Councilman Sam Fruscione was absent from the May 29 meeting.
If the line is again cut through a council amendment Dyster would have the votes to veto the cut, so long as both Walker and Grandinetti stick with their May votes.
Dyster said that Sherry Shepherd-Corulli, who acted as the city’s grant consultant before the line was cut from last year’s budget, has been helping departments struggling with grant administration issues to catch up on a volunteer basis in recent months.
“We’re very grateful,” Dyster said. “She didn’t have to do that.”
Dyster submitted a list of over $6 million worth of grants that the city is currently in the process of administering with his May resolution. Failure to properly report on the progress of the awards could result in financial penalties or the repayment of money already spent.
“Grant administration goes sometimes long after the physical project is done,” the mayor said.
Dyster said the $30,000 in the line — which has no other benefits tied to it - works to protect all the grant money the city has already been awarded and creates opportunities for the city to further pursue funding.
“Once you’ve ventured into a grant and you’ve signed an agreement you have responsibilities,” Dyster said.
Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian said he and Councilman Sam Fruscione will need to go through the proposed budget line by line before he will be able to comment on Dyster’s attempts to restore positions and salaries.
“When I do the budget I go line by line so it’s all a package deal,” Choolokian said. “I can’t just pick out four little things and say if they’re going to pass.”BUDGET MOVES: PART THREE EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the last in a three-part series examining aspects of Mayor Paul Dyster's proposed 2014 spending plan. Look for all three parts on our website niagara-gazette.com. Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257