Niagara Gazette

September 23, 2013

GUEST VIEW: Building a better future for the Falls

By Andrew Touma
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — During this year’s campaign for city council, I attempted to lay out my specific ideas for progress in Niagara Falls. Initially, I discussed my views about building consensus within city government and the need to support those community organizations that give our city a much needed boost. As the campaign progressed, I explained my plan for economic development as being rooted in a public-private partnership that included our neighborhood business groups as well as USA Niagara Development Corp.

However, from the time I first, began circulating petitions right up to the primary election day, my central focus has been neighborhood restoration. I sincerely believe that city government has a major responsibility to provide its citizens with an efficient and effective program of housing rehabilitation and new housing construction.

On Sept. 10, I was gratified to learn that many of you shared my vision for the future of our city. On that day, I was fortunate to receive the highest number of votes among the four candidates competing in the Democratic primary for city council. In 27 out of 36 election districts, I finished first among the candidates. I want the residents of Niagara Falls to know how humbled and grateful I am for the trust they have placed in me. This trust has energized me as I continue the campaign into the general election.

Most importantly, though, the many different ideas I heard from the countless voters I met at their homes have made a significant impact on me. These opinions from concerned citizens have caused me to think very carefully about the kind of community we need to create and what that will mean for residents in every neighborhood.

It’s a typical view in modern American society that we expect our government to provide us with the solutions to economic and social problems. At the same time, we expect government to hold down, and even decrease, the costs of the services it provides. We feel entitled to this concept of an ever expanding level of service while seeing our tax bills go down. In reality, my friends, that view of entitlement is simply an illusion and those candidates who try to sell it to you are perpetuating a fraud. Just ask them to explain the specifics of how they plan to achieve this entitlement.

Cost cutting in local government can only go so far before the level of service is affected. Greater efficiency in the delivery of basic services has to be the focus of the discussions of the city council, mayor, and department heads during the annual budget deliberations. We must all begin to construct our expectations of government services on firmer ground. Those who are elected to city government must now realize that there are some basic contradictions in the expectations of the past. Facing these contradictions in the future means making difficult choices.

Dealing with the economic development of Niagara Falls will require city government to take a more regional approach with respect to this issue. The city council and mayor must focus on the strengths of the Western New York economy and how they can benefit Niagara Falls. One area to examine is the auto industry. It would be foolish to suggest that an auto assembly plant be built in our city, but why not look at what Niagara Falls has to offer and how it can fit into the huge auto supply chain that exists in our region?

Furthermore, this focus on manufacturing also brings up the question of low-cost energy.

Our local government has to put pressure on our representatives in state government to help us secure more low-cost electricity from the New York Power Authority. Governor Cuomo has consistently demonstrated his commitment to Niagara Falls. We must enlist his support in this quest for low-cost power.

in terms of retail and hospitality development, our city government must seriously consider all reasonable incentives that make any project profitable. No one invests their money in a project that has little chance of succeeding. However, when I use the term “reasonable,” I’m also referring to a cooperative attitude on the part of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency whereby tax incentives applied to the project also work for the benefit of Niagara Falls. Why not learn from the project to restore the Hotel Lafayette in Buffalo? The effective use of historic tax credits is what made that project profitable. There must be similar applications for these types of tax credits in Niagara Falls.

In the weeks leading up to election day, I hope to have the opportunity to explain my vision for Niagara Falls to voters of all political parties. Accepting simplistic solutions for complex problems is what led Niagara Falls to where it is today. I believe people throughout this city are ready to join together to build a better future.

Andrew P. Touma is a candidate for Niagara Falls City Council.