By Justin Sondel firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — Mayor Paul Dyster is scheduled to update the city council on the status of his proposed budget for 2014.
Dyster’s administrative update is on the agenda for today’s council meeting, one day before the Oct. 1 deadline outlined in the city charter.
Dyster said that while the delivery of casino revenues this summer will make for a more straightforward budget process the city continues to face the same issues it had before the stoppage of the funds.
“We still have a structural deficit problem,” he said.
The city has for years spent more than it takes in and the issues have only become more difficult to solve as the years go on, Dyster said.
While the tax base has grown in recent years those new revenues are far outpaced by legacy costs, employee health benefits and other labor-related costs increase.
“Our expenses are growing faster than our revenues,” the mayor said.
With the end to the dispute between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York state over the 2002 gaming compact this June the city received almost $89 million in withheld casino revenues, allowing for the repayment of money borrowed from the general fund with a sizable surplus.
“As soon as we received the casino revenues we repaid the special project fund balance,” Dyster said.
The city now has a healthy reserve fund, but the cannot use those funds to fill gaps in the budget by law, a move that would not solve the city’s long-term issues anyway, Dyster said.
“We can’t just take casino revenues and use them to plug holes in the budget year after year,” Dyster said.”It’s really a paradoxical situation.”
Dyster has expressed interest in participating in a new state program that will offer technical assistance to fiscally unstable municipalities across the state. The Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments — the 10-member panel that oversees the program — was formed after Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed for the legislation in an effort to battle budget deficit issues, which plague municipalities across the state.
Dyster delivered what he described as a “disaster budget” - which included an 8.3 percent property tax hike and the elimination of the equivalent of 27.5 full-time jobs - a month late last year.
The city counted only a portion of its anticipated casino revenues in that budget after the Office of the New York State Comptroller was critical of the city’s inclusion of all withheld casino cash in previous budgets.
The city council, through cuts to civic and cultural organizations and the use of one-shot revenues, was able to eliminate the tax hike and restore most of the jobs in the adopted budget.
Dyster said at the time that the budget was late because he and other city officials were exploring every possible revenue source in an effort to minimize tax hikes or job cuts.
Dyster said he and other city employees will work over the weekend if need be to ensure that his proposal is submitted on Tuesday.
“We think we are going to be on time,” he said.
Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian said that with an on-time budget and casino revenues restored the council should have an opportunity to work with the mayor to put together the best possible spending plan.
“I’m looking for a new year of doing stuff the right way,” he said.
Choolokian said he will be looking for any spending he considers frivolous in Dyster’s proposed budget.
“We don’t want to blow money on foolish things that don’t have a long-term affect,” he said.Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257