Niagara Gazette

November 29, 2013

HAMILTON: Onion skins, councils and mayors

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Not since the days of Mayor Michael O’Laughlin have I been so surprised by a single package of council votes. The biggest surprise was when council unanimously got it wrong in not accepting the help of that Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments that Mayor Paul Dyster proposed, and that should have passed muster.

Because it did not, you cannot blame the so-called “council majority” for that one. Anderson was absent, and even if council newcomer Andy Touma was on the council, would it have made the difference that many people hoped for. The vote was 4-0. Well, so much for the council working together!

Here’s why it should have passed.

The verbiage described in the letter that the Financial Restructuring Board sent to City Administrator Donna Owens stated that the board’s duties was in undertaking a comprehensive review of the municipality’s finances and operations, and recommending ways to improve its fiscal stability and the delivery of public services.

The letter further states that if their recommendations were taken, then either grants, loans or a combination of both, in the amount of $5 million dollars, may be available to correct the city’s structural deficiencies. That could amount to $5 million in free money; or rather, money that we have already sent to the state as a result of the Seneca casino funds of which they take 75 percent.

Now listen to this. We are eligible for this board, primarily for three reasons.

One is because we are so close to our taxing cap that, to put it into naval terms, we are heading straight for the shallow shoal waters where the rocks will rip us from bow to stern.

Two; we are ‘fixing’ that closeness to the taxing cap, the shoals, by taking money from our already diminishing cash reserves to the tune of $4 million dollars. Remember the $5 million that the state is potentially offering us?

And three, the Seneca casino funds, along with any likely sales tax revenue increases in the future, may be far less that what they were in the past; given that Native gaming in New York state will shift from being a novelty/specialty, and continue as just another common commodity. That’s why the governor was successful in getting statewide gaming that exempts the Niagara Frontier.

Are the council and the mayor doing their jobs?

It doesn’t seem like it to others and me. We are a ‘city’, and every budget should be made based upon a budgetary projection that trends out as far as twenty, ten and five years into the future. We know that we can do it, or at least pretend to do so, based upon building a nearly $40 million dollar train station that is supposedly based upon an increase of train ridership that far out. While I don’t agree with the station, at least it is a projection. Likewise, if at any time that we have to dip into reserves for operating costs, then we know that we have failed to properly meet budgetary trends.

But, before we can ‘fix’ the budget, or the need for a financial restructuring board, or to get the necessary vote for a financial restructuring, we first have to understand why the restructuring vote failed to pass.

Maybe it is the personalities of those involved, thinking that they can learn city management in the length of time that they have been there — without carefully studying the issue; or, perhaps it is merely political expediency.

Or maybe, and I have to ask the question, was it because of the mayor’s arrogance, or the council’s ignorance, or was it from a condition of which I often suffer (in addition to sometimes the aforementioned traits) — the misunderstanding that people already know and understand what I know and understand.

Nonetheless, it comes down to a communications issue, of which I thought that the right-side of the dais’ connections to the mayor would have given them an understanding of the gravity and consequences of this matter. Perhaps not, though; seeing how the letter offering the state’s services was dated Oct. 9, 2013, and it didn’t reach the agenda until the end of November and after the elections!

Nonetheless, it all needs to be fixed, and fixed at the administrative, council and especially at the voter/citizens level. We must all know and understand these issues, and then vote accordingly — on the dais, and in the polls. This is truly a case where the brown onion skin looks nice, and it covers some of the onion’s pungent smell; but the onion’s flavor is in its many layers, and its future successes are in the seeds at its core.

Contact Ken Hamilton at kenhamilton930@aol.com.

Contact Ken Hamilton at kenhamilton930@aol.com.