Niagara Gazette

November 25, 2012

Mayor to veto proposed Seneca fees

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Mayor Paul Dyster will veto a resolution passed by the city council that would allow the city to collect money from the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York state for services.

The resolution called for an amendment to a city ordinance that would establish a structured system of fees to be charged to the Senecas and the state for city services — response to emergency calls, road maintenance, plowing — at the Seneca’s gaming complex and state parks that fall within city lines. That measure passed by a vote of 4-1 at the Oct. 29 council meeting, with Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti being the only council member to vote no.

Dyster will veto the ordinance amendment because the ability of the city to enforce the charges is “highly questionable,” and the amount that the city would collect under the plan outlined in the resolution would pale in comparison to the millions of dollars the city is owed and is being withheld in the dispute over the gaming compact between the Senecas and the state, he wrote in a letter to Carol Antonucci, the city clerk.

“It’s more likely to lead to expensive litigation than to collection of any revenue,” Dyster wrote.

City attorney Craig Johnson declined to comment on the enforceability of the amended ordinance.

Dyster said part of the motivation for putting forth the veto was a letter from the Senecas, which he said he could not share with the Gazette without the permission of the nation, saying that they would never pay a bill for such services.

“What we receive from the compact goes well beyond what we render in services and rightly so,” Dyster said. “I think this just creates an opportunity for the Senecas to score a public relations win.”

Dyster reiterated that he understands the council’s frustration, but said that the amount of time that would be spent litigating the attempts to collect on these bills would end up being a drain on city resources and may actually give the Senecas an opportunity to offer to pay for the services only, an amount that would be dwarfed by the $60 million that the city is owed.

“The amount of money that would be collected under this ordinance is chump change for the Senecas,” Dyster said.

Dyster has spent a great deal of time communicating with both the state and the Senecas throughout the dispute, offering to be any help that he can in finding a solution. The optimal situation for the city would be for the two sides to come to an agreement and for the city to continue being paid in the way that it had before the beginning of the dispute, he said.

“That’s the best way for this to be resolved,” he said.

Councilman Glenn Choolokian, who co-authored the resolution with council Chairman Sam Fruscione, said he is disappointed that the mayor is not willing to take a stand for the city.

“I’ve been saying since I was elected that the administration should be more aggressive with the state and the Senecas in trying to get our money,” Choolokian said.

He said he feels the city has been overlooked in a situation where they are faultless and that it is time to send a message to the parties that have helped put Niagara Falls into a terrible financial situation.

“I think maybe we have to go to court,” he said.

Choolokian said that if the state and Senecas would have paid the city what it is owed under the gaming compact while continuing on with their arbitration the city would not be forced to consider such unusual measures.

“The Seneca Nation and New York state would have never made the millions of dollars that they did without the city of Niagara Falls being the host city,” he added.

The council will need four yes votes to override the mayor’s veto, which is the number of yes votes that the measure received when it was passed.

Fruscione said that he is sick of seeing the taxpayers of Niagara Falls foot the bill for services provided to the casino and state parks.

“I’m only looking out for the residents and business owners,” he said.

Fruscione believes that the Senecas and state might be more willing to pay the fees if city plows didn’t clear streets during the region’s first snow storms, he said.

“Let them buy their own plows,” he said.

Fruscione said that in Dyster’s reasoning for the veto it seems as though he is sticking up for the state and Senecas rather than the residents of the Falls.

“This is not about city hall,” Fruscione said. “It’s about the residents of Niagara Falls.”

Dyster mug Paul Dyster Fees won't help