Niagara Gazette — It’s a load off everyone’s shoulders, not just those at Niagara Falls City Hall.
Thursday’s announced deal between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York state, ending a three-year standoff over casino revenues, wasn’t just about bringing millions of dollars to the City of Niagara Falls. The city’s school district, its hospital and its chief tourism promotions organization each get a piece of the pie as well.
They’ve been “getting by” without the annual payments they’d been promised. But that’s all done now, the waiting game is over.
“It was like Christmas in June,” said Joseph Ruffolo, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center’s president and CEO, said about hearing of the deal.
The city’s hospital receives a portion of the city’s casino revenues each year as part of the original deal, used for capital improvements throughout its buildings.
Despite not seeing money for three years, the hospital was able to secure funding for its new dialysis center, which creates about 30 new permanent jobs in the city.
To Ruffolo, the casino money is about creating and maintaining the hospital’s workforce, not about politics.
“It’s all about creating jobs,” he said. “As a major employer in the area, it’s a balancing act between improving community health status and doing it in a way that’s creating new jobs in an economically depressed area. (The money) gives us a chance to replenish our (cash) reserves so we can put that money towards future economic development projects.”
Like the hospital, the city’s school district had been receiving money from the state as part of the original compact, signed in 2001. Like the hospital, the money was given to the schools for the sake of improving buildings and keeping the costs of education as low as possible.
Trouble found the district as they were planning the 2013-14 school spending plan, when the three-year stalemate between the state and the Senecas forced district Administrator for Business Services Timothy Hyland to dip deep into the cash reserves just to break even. The district also needed to increase its tax levy for the first time in 20 years to cope with education spending, partially due to the lack of casino revenues.
“We were using up our reserves,” Bianco said. “Because we didn’t get the (casino) money, we had to take it from other sources (like cash reserves).”
The result took a once financially healthy school district close to needing to borrow close to $10 million just to pay the bills, Hyland said.
With the money owed expected to be fully repaid, Hyland said that’s less money borrowed and less interest to pay.
“Our reserves, which were getting dangerously low, will now be restored to a healthy level,” City School District Administrator for Business Services Timothy Hyland said. “So there will be some breathing room for the district, which will put us on a financially stable path.”
The district receives $750,000 each year, according to the agreement.
Tourism in Niagara Falls is also about to get an influx of cash, which could help bring more money to the casino and, by default, the city.
Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation President and CEO John Percy said he’s spent the last few days with his head spinning around advertising ideas and marketing plans under the assumption the money is provided to him and his group. After all, a large portion of the city’s expected casino revenues is dedicated to marketing and advertising the area to the country and the world.
But it’s not about spending crazy just because the money may be there. He said the corporation must be smart about what is done to promote the area. And his group is ready to do it the right way.
“(We’ll) increase our campaign significantly and direct those campaigns strategically,” Percy said. “We’re not misspending those funds crazily, we’ll be sitting down, putting a strategic approach to it and spending it effectively as we move forward.
“The next 24 hours are going to be really busy just trying to put our thoughts around it. I think we’re in a tailspin right now about (Thursday) and this quick announcement. Within the next week, we’ll be putting our strategic thoughts behind this and putting a strong plan of action together to where we’re going to spend those dollars.”Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.