Niagara Gazette

Local News

February 25, 2013

State to forward $2.5M to Salamanca until Seneca dispute ends; no similar deal for Falls

Niagara Gazette — Salamanca has been thrown a life-saver from the state to help the economically struggling city stay afloat while New York wraps up its legal battle over the gaming compact with the Seneca Nation of Indians.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a measure in his 30-day budget amendments that will forward $2.5 million to Salamanca from the state's general fund to help the fiscally struggling city operate until there is an outcome in the binding arbitration process now taking place to put an end to the dispute.

But Niagara Falls, also facing financial hardships, has not been offered the same deal.

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman from Cuomo's office, sent an email statement to the Gazette regarding the state's reasoning behind providing a bridge loan for Salamanca but not Niagara Falls.

"The cities of Salamanca and Niagara Falls are each in unique situations that require different approaches," he said in the statement. "We'll continue to work with both to find the best resolution to their issues as arbitration talks with the Senecas continue."

While both cities are facing difficult financial situations without the casino revenues that flowed in from 2002 to 2009 Salamanca's situation is particularly bad.

About 85 percent of the city sits on land owned by the Seneca Nation of Indians. That land is only taxable when leased by a non-native person, a result of a 1990 congressional bill called the Salamanca Settlement Act.

As native people or groups acquire land in the city, it comes off of the tax rolls. Last year the city lost $360,000 in taxable property value, Matthew Bull, Salamanca's comptroller, said.

"We have a large percentage of our taxable land that's immune from taxes," he explained.

The small city — with a population of about 5,900 — relies on the casino cash for almost 40 percent of its operating budget.

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