Niagara Gazette

November 13, 2012

Residents sound off on city budget plan

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette —

Residents filled the Niagara Falls City Council chambers to voice their grievances with Mayor Paul Dyster's proposed budget and a bailout deal brokered by Dyster and state officials with the New York Power Authority at a public hearing.

Citizens complained of the mismanagement of casino revenues, expressed fears about funding cuts and urged council members not to take the power authority deal, in which the city would give up the host community payment of $850,000 a year for the remaining 44 years of the relicensing agreement signed in 2005 for a lump sum payment of $13.5 million.

The most vocal and visible group at the meeting was made up of citizens asking the council to restore funding to the Niagara Falls Public Library, which would receive $100,000 less than it did in 2012 if Dyster's proposed 2013 budget were passed.

People in the first two rows of seating held up signs in support of the library while Frank Croisdale, the president of the nonprofit group Niagara Rises, spoke in support of the library.

Croisdale said the council members need to understand the the importance of the library and its 117-year history in the city, urging them to restore the funding.

"Don't let the legacy of today's government be that this is when we cut it," Croisdale said.

Niagara Rises has helped to bring programming to the library that gives teenagers access to different technologies Croisdale said that he has seen the positive influence that the library has on young people.

"In that work I've been able to see first-hand the incredible impact that our library is making on the youth of this city and helping position them for their future lives," he said, submitting a petition with over 900 signatures asking that the funding be restored.

After Croisdale, a line of teens who use the technology center stood to address the council. 

Faith Kyle, 15, bent the microphone down and told the council why she thinks it is important that the funding is restored. She regularly uses the library, she said.

"I believe that the city should not be taking away from teenagers who come to our city to participate in this program because it means a lot to the children and teenagers who come to the library," she said.

City finances, especially the 8.3 percent tax homeowners face in the budget Dyster revealed on Nov. 1, was another concern repeated throughout the hearing.

Ed Battaglia, who owns a home and a business in Niagara Falls, said that he wants the city to discontinue the practice of counting future casino revenues as budgeted receivables.

"What we ought to do is earmark infrastructure and capitol improvements and if we get the money proceed with them, and if we don't get the money, don't do them," he said.

Battaglia, who received applause several times for his comments on fiscal responsibility, also urged the council to refuse the power authority deal. He said that he does not want to see the city take the money to fix this budget at the expense of starting with less money for all budgets for the next 44 years.

"That money is earmarked for capitol improvements and you want to take it for operating money," Batagglia said. "That's taking the seed corn and eating it now and having nothing to plant next year. Don't do it."

In other council matters;

• The council honored Niagara Falls firefighters Jason Zona and Bernard Lucantonia and registered nurse Janet Ligammari who all worked to save the life of a citizen after he suffered a heart attack at the annual Columbian Awards Dinner at the Cristoforo Colombo Society.

• The council passed a resolution to disburse a payment to Wendel Duchscherer Architects and Engineers in the amount of $268,000 for additional consulting work that they performed on the Niagara Falls Intermodal Transportation Center project. The measure passed by a vote of 3-2, with council members Kristen Grandinetti, Robert Anderson Jr. and Charles Walker voting yes and council member Glenn Choolokian and chairman Sam Fruscione voting no.

• The council unanimously approved the sale of a city-owned vacant house on Whitney Avenue to the Isaiah 61 Project, a not-for-profit that uses vacant houses to train the unemployed and underemployed in the building trades and then provides the finished house to a low-income family at an affordable cost.