Niagara Gazette

Local News

February 28, 2013

Council majority cutting out meals -- and watching every cent

Niagara Gazette — A trio of city lawmakers plan to operate as their own "control board" in Niagara Falls and are looking to impose a freeze on the use of city funds for trips, consultants and other "non-essential" items, including their own taxpayer-funded meals. 

Members of the council majority — Chairman Glenn Choolokian, Robert Anderson Jr. and Sam Fruscione — have introduced a resolution authorizing the council to "act as a control board" while imposing a freeze on spending for consultants, engineering studies, training, conferences, travel events, concerts, advertising and all meals, including those involving council members themselves.

The resolution calls upon City Controller Maria Brown to submit monthly expenditure reports to Choolokian and asks that all "requests to move and or spend money" be submitted for council review. The resolution argues that the freeze will prevent the possibility of an "unexpected tax increase mid-year along with layoffs and reduction of essential city services." It is expected to be considered for a council vote on Monday and would take effect immediately upon approval.

The resolution cites the city's ongoing financial problems as the reason behind the move, suggesting the 2013 budget faces a potential structural deficit of about $7 million as a result of anticipated revenues that may not materialize, including $5.3 million in casino cash and 2012 appropriated fund balance. 

On Thursday, Choolokian said the measure is aimed at curtailing as much spending — and thus creating as much savings — as possible at a time when the city is experiencing significant financial challenges, including a lack of cash flow. 

"We're just trying to get an early start on everything and tighten up everybody's belt," he said. 

Last April, city lawmakers, with the administration's approval, adopted a resolution calling for a department-wide freeze on all discretionary spending. 

Mayor Paul Dyster noted that the council and the administration were on the same page in adopting last year's freeze. He believes a "number of issues" exist with the new measure and said he questions whether a majority of council members have the legal authority to "act as a control board" and if the council chairman has the ability to assume oversight of things like budget transfers and spending.

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