Niagara Gazette —
City lawmakers on Monday tabled Mayor Paul Dyster's veto of a resolution that would allow the city to charge the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York state fees for various services.
Dyster vetoed a resolution approved in a 4 to 1 vote by council council members last month that amended an ordinance allowing the city to charge the Senecas and the state for road maintenance, emergency response and other services at the Seneca Niagara Casino and state park land in Niagara Falls.
Approval from four of the five city council members is needed to override a mayoral veto.
Following Monday's council meeting, Councilman Glenn Choolokian, who co-authored the resolution with Council Chairman Sam Fruscione, said the vote on a potential veto override was delayed to allow for additional consultation with city attorneys.
"We're looking to get more legal advice from our lawyer," Choolokian said.
Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson declined comment on the legality of the ordinance amendment on Monday.
In a letter attached to the veto delivered to the city clerk's office last week, Dyster called the measure's enforceability "highly questionable."
On Monday, Dyster stood by his assessment.
"I can't sign into law things that I think are illegal," Dyster said. "I put my hand on the Bible. I took an oath. I take that stuff seriously."
Choolokian has said that part of the purpose of the resolution was to send a message to both the Senecas and the state that the city would stand up for itself after being left in a terrible financial situation due to the suspension of gaming revenue payments.
Choolokian said he plans to meet with state Assemblyman John Cerretto, R-Lewiston, to discuss agreements between communities in Niagara County and Indian nations where the nations pay for fire protection from volunteer fire companies on reservations.
"We're looking at a program that other cities are doing," Choolokian said. "I still haven't gotten a sit down meeting with them. Once we talk to them we'll see what their law department says."
Fruscione said that although there may not be a clear legal avenue for the city to collect fees for services he still feels that it is wrong for the residents of Niagara Falls to have to pay for services enjoyed by the two parties that have played a large role in the financial distress the city is facing this year.
"We're left out of [arbitration] so we feel helpless," Fruscione said. "We're trying to do creative things that we think are positive that can help benefit the taxpayers and the business owners here in the city of Niagara Falls."
Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti, the only council member to vote against the original resolution, distributed to her council colleagues on Monday a definition of special assessment rolls - the legal category that the proposed fees would fall under - from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance's website. The law, she argued, protects entities being charged - like the Seneca Nation and the state - making the proposed fees difficult to collect.
Grandinetti said she hopes the other members of the council will take into consideration the resources that might be expended in attempting to collect the fees from the Senecas and the state.
"Sometimes when you implement something like this it ends up costing more money than it generates," Grandinetti said. "If we get into any sort of litigation about it then we are looking at legal fees that would certainly outweigh any of the fees that we may collect."