Niagara Gazette

September 26, 2013

Dyster wants in on state's fiscal restructuring program

By Justin Sondel justin.sondel@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The city of Niagara Falls is eligible to participate in the state’s fiscal restructuring program.

The city appeared on a list of 389 municipalities throughout the state — along with 20 other Niagara municipalities including the county — that were named as eligible participants in the program pushed through the Legislature by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this summer.

Mayor Paul Dyster sent a letter to Cuomo’s office shortly after plans were announced this spring, saying he wanted Niagara Falls to be first in line to participate in the program aimed at helping municipalities manage short-term financial goals and fix long-term structural budget issues.

“I think it’s well worth participating,” the mayor said. “Getting additional expertise is always a positive.”

Now that the city has been deemed eligible by the Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments — the 10-member panel charged with identifying distressed municipalities and providing technical assistance to them — it can apply to be part of the program.

All municipalities are welcome to apply to participate, but those on the list were predetermined to be eligible based on a measure of the local government’s property taxes against its reserve funds.

Local governments participating in the program will be able to accept up to $5 million in loans and grants which will be drawn from an $80 million pool of state money.

Municipalities will have to agree to share information with the panel in order to participate in the program. The board would then make recommendations and perhaps offer financial assistance in the form of grants and loans. Municipalities would then have to agree to follow those recommendations in order to accept the money.

The board would also serve as an alternative arbitration panel for binding arbitration between municipalities and unions, working to settle disputes between the parties.

Dyster said he has spoken with city union leaders and made them aware of that option, though he was unable to provide any details about the alternative arbitration because he has not been given details as to how it would work.

“We’re taking a wait and see approach,” he said. “Right now it’s an unknown. Nobody’s been through it yet.”

Included in that legislation that formed the board and program was a provision requiring local consent, meaning that city council will have to approve a resolution authorizing Dyster to apply to the program.

Dyster plans to put forth a resolution to apply to the program in the coming weeks, he said.

Cuomo’s office announced the appointment of board members and the release of the board’s website last week. The board, which held its first meeting on Monday, is chaired by the director of the state’s Division of Budget and includes representatives from the Office of the Comptroller, state lawmakers and individuals from the private sector.

Dyster said the high percentage of cities that appeared on the list — 41 of the 62 cities in New York are eligible — is evidence of the unique challenges that urban areas, which have been hard hit by population loss and legacy costs, continue to work through.

“Part of what you’re seeing here is the result of suburban sprawl,” Dyster said. “Just because people moved out doesn’t necessarily mean that it will cost less to take care of the infrastructure.”

Mug of Dyster Paul Dysters Eyeing state program

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257