NIAGARA FALLS — email@example.com
STATE OF THE CITY
Mayor Paul Dyster boasted Thursday that the city began to turn the corner in 2010 with a number of high-profile projects, while warning the more than 300 in attendance at his annual State of the City address that the city has no room to rest on its laurels in 2011.
Dyster, who is in the final year of his four-year term, focused the bulk of his speech on projects or initiatives that worked toward “fixing our roads, restoring our neighborhoods and rebuilding our shattered economy.”
The paving of 40 roads — a record for a single year — the securing of the competitive TIGER II grant to fund the intermodal train station — and the upcoming transformation of the former Rainbow Center Mall into Niagara County Community College’s Culinary Arts Institute, are projects that can build an “exciting city, a fun city, a vibrant city that will make us all proud,” he said. “That’s a look at where we’ve been and what we’ve done. I’m proud of it,” Dyster said. “But I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about where we need to go and what we still need to accomplish. Many challenges remain as we reach for new prosperity in the City of Niagara Falls.”
Dyster pledged in 2011 the city will continue paving roads, demolishing vacant buildings and continue to find innovative ways to fight crime and gang violence in the city. He added the city must ensure that many of the large projects see completion.
Dyster said the “long simmering” debate over the future of the Robert Moses Parkway must also be solved and progress must be made with the New York Power Authority over the creation of an economic development fund.
Those pledges cost money, Dyster said, and despite cutbacks at city hall, residents will be burdened with a “modest” tax increase this year. A large cut in expected state aid, coupled with dramatic increases in pension and health insurance costs, are the primary culprit behind the tax hike.
However, Dyster said the city is financially in good shape.
“I can assure you our city is standing on solid financial ground,” he said.
Dyster did not propose any major projects but did say the city will be focused on job creation and work to spur private development.
In order to do so, Dyster said the city needs to re-establish the position of economic development director at the same salary level as former economic development director Peter Kay. He made $100,000-per-year and was ousted by the council earlier this year after they became dissatisfied with his performance.
Dyster said after his address that having a well-qualified person in that position who can sit down with large development companies or hotel executives is key .
“You need to have someone who really knows what they are doing in that position,” Dyster said. “I wouldn’t say this is going to happen this week, but I will propose this (to the city council) at some point in time.”
Council Chairman Sam Fruscione, who has been a critic of Kay and the position in general, said he sees it unlikely the council would approve the position.
“His call (for an economic development director) is my call because the council makes the final decision,” Fruscione said when asked if he supports the mayor’s proposal.
Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti, who voted to remove Kay from the post, said she would support the position if the mayor chose to go that route.
“I think it’s something that we have to talk about, but unfortunately the former person who ran that department was a hard worker, but his vision didn’t match the vision of the city,” she said. “Do I think we need an economic development director? Yes I do.”
Dyster said a focus on creating green industry jobs using brownfield cleanup grants is a major priority for 2011. He said in 2010, the city saw companies like Globe Specialty Metals, Ashland Advanced Materials and Green Tire Systems create 200 new jobs in the city and pledged there will be more announcements in 2011.
“We’re racing to the head of the line to create the jobs of the future,” Dyster said. “While other cities have seen more of their factories shuttered, we’re reopening our plants. We’re not just creating new jobs, we’re creating new industries.”
Dyster pledged to attract private business and vendors to Old Falls and Third streets in the city in an effort to grow those business districts.
He said the hiring of an equal opportunity officer and formal performance system for evaluating city employees will bring not only a better diversified, but better qualified staff to city hall.
Dyster announced that in March the city will be accepting bids for the full reconstruction of Buffalo Avenue from Veteran’s Drive to just past 24th Street. He said pending council approval, the city will replace the lighting on Pine Avenue as well.
Fruscione, who has indicated he may run against Dyster for mayor later this year, said the state of the city address sounded more like campaign rhetoric than an assessment of the functions of city government.
“I thought I was attending a campaign fundraiser, that’s my initial reaction,” Fruscione said. “I appreciated some of the statistical data, that is what I would expect at a state of the city address, but (the speech) tended to digress into more of a campaign fundraiser.”
While Fruscione admitted the city was on the right track and things are “moving forward,” he said the council has done its due diligence to ensure projects could move forward.
“The city is doing well thanks to the city council’s ability to budget the right amount of money to get some of these projects done,” he said. “We have efficiently budgeted the money and spent it appropriately.”
Grandinetti, who has often supported the mayor’s agenda, said she would echo the notion set forth in the mayor’s speech and believes residents should remain optimistic about the future of the city.
“We will continue moving forward,” she said. “The state of our city is hopeful and I am looking forward to 2011 to top everything we’ve done in 2010.”
Dyster said the future of the city rests in the hands of its residents.
“Make no mistake, there is nothing inevitable about the resurgence of our city,” he said. “We haven’t lost our capacity for greatness, but our future is entirely up to us.”
Contact reporter Nick Mattera at 282-2311, ext. 2251.