Niagara Gazette — Department heads and members of community groups in the city of Niagara Falls have been hearing for months now about the need to reign in municipal spending due to the ongoing casino cash crunch.
Records on file with the city controller’s office show the financial alarm sounded last spring hasn’t stopped Mayor Paul Dyster, City Administrator Donna Owens and a majority of city council members from using taxpayers to fund and buy meals.
Financial records obtained through Freedom of Information requests filed by the Niagara Gazette show Dyster and Owens spent $2,925 on conference travel during a department-wide freeze on discretionary spending imposed last April by the council. The freeze expired with the new budget took effect this year.
So far in 2013, records show 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.
On the council side, records show that between April 2 and Dec. 31, 2012 — the period covered by the spending freeze — four of the council’s five members and at least two representatives from the corporation counsel’s office spent $3,436 in taxpayer money on meeting-day meals.
Choolokian confirmed earlier this month that the practice of dining out on council-meeting days has continued so far in 2013. The bill for the most recent council meal — which took place on Feb. 4. — totaled $174.
Both administration and council officials note that their expenditures are covered under items contained within the municipal budget. They also stressed that administrative travel and funds set aside as part of the council’s “local meetings” budget line were not covered under last year’s freeze.
Both sides have cut back on their travel and meeting accounts. They do not appear ready to eliminate them in light of the city’s current financial situation.