Niagara Gazette

March 17, 2014

City council OKs $250K in casino funds for Memorial project

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

The city is investing in Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center's new cardiac and stroke care center.

The Niagara Falls City Council approved the allocation of $250,000 in casino revenues for the $3.4 million project to help the hospital reach its match goal for a $750,000 challenge grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation.

Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti called the project a "major milestone" for the community before casting her yes vote.

"The cardiac and stroke center is a perfect example of what can be accomplished when local government maintains healthy partnerships," Grandinetti said.

Grandinetti said the project will help maintain and create jobs while improving the quality of care offered by the hospital.

"We can bring investment to our community," Grandinetti said. "We can bring about economic development. We can provide for the public health needs of our community. It just takes foresight and cooperation."

Councilman Glenn Choolokian expressed some concerns about using casino funds for the project, but voted in support of the agenda item.

"I've always said in the past that casino funds should not be used to fund private entities," he said, citing previous investments made by the city, including the absolving of a $750,000 water bill and capital improvements on the Memorial campus.

"With all this help, Memorial hospital should be more self-sustaining like other local businesses in Niagara Falls," Choolokian said.

However, Choolokian said he viewed the project as a good investment that would last for decades, something that can't be said about previous uses of casino revenues such as concert series.

"This is the kind of project that can help the city of Niagara Falls and help the community and I think the casino money should be used on projects that will last a lifetime in the city of Niagara Falls," Choolokian said.

In other news the council;

• Approved a $10,000 grant for a partnership job training project run by the Isaiah 61 Project and the Highland Community Revitalization Committee. The money will be used to pay for an instructor from Orleans/Niagara BOCES.

• Approve the allocation of more than $210,000 in casino revenues for nine new vehicles for Code Enforcement. The department's lease contracts run out this year and the city will save money by purchasing vehicles, according to Dennis Virtuoso, the department's director.

• Approve the hiring of Robert Restaino as special counsel on the city council's upcoming push to reform the city charter at a rate of $1,500 a month. Grandinetti made a motion to table the agenda item citing concerns over possible conflicts of interest, as Restaino is involved in politics and has contributed to her campaign and the campaigns of other council members. Restaino is also a school board member and Grandinetti and Councilman Andrew Touma work for the district. Grandinetti's motion to table the item was not seconded and the measure was approved in a 4-1 vote with Grandinetti being the only council member to vote no.