Niagara Gazette — On April 2, 2012, city lawmakers, with the backing of Mayor Paul Dyster’s administration, imposed a department-wide spending freeze on all non-essential items.
They made the move in response to a cash crunch brought on by a lack of incoming casino revenue.
The freeze didn’t cover expenses related to the travel account overseen by Mayor Paul Dyster.
Records on file with the city controller’s office show Dyster and his top aide, City Administrator Donna Owens, participated in state, national and international conferences at a cost to taxpayers in Niagara Falls through the end of last year.
Copies of records obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the Gazette show the administration spent $2,925 on conference travel during the freeze in 2012 on various travel-related items, including road tolls, gasoline, conference registration fees and lodging.
In 2013, the practice has continued. So far this year, Dyster and Owens have spent $4,592 from the mayor’s travel account on a nine-day trip to Washington, D.C. and a two-day trip to Albany.
The dollar amounts aren’t large — but they are symbolic.
In a city strapped for cash, should top leaders be spending money on such things?
When it comes to cash spent on travel expenses for conferences, Dyster thinks so, especially when it leads to additional state and federal revenue flowing into the city for large-scale projects like the new North End train station.
“There’s some portion of this that has to be done,” he said.
During the freeze, Dyster attended one conference — the annual meeting for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative — in Quebec City, Canada. Charges from that trip account for over half of the travel spending out of the mayor’s office during last year’s spending freeze with costs that included an $847 stay at the Fairmont Le Chateau hotel and a $733 train ticket.