BY TONY FARINA
Gov. Andrew Cuomo rode into Niagara Falls this week full of promises about using state funds from his Buffalo Billion Squared Initiative in his proposed 2017 budget to reclaim underused and vacant property near the state park, an investment he says that will pay dividends for the city.
While it may sound great, the federal corruption probe into his first Buffalo Billion investment has many legislators taking a second look at phase two. There’s no guarantee state lawmakers will give Cuomo everything he’s looking for this time, and even he admits his plan has only a 50-50 chance of success.
But while hope springs eternal, and Cuomo could be a winner politically either way, the City of Niagara Falls shouldn’t sit back and wait to see how the power struggle plays out between the governor and state lawmakers. Councilmember Andrew Touma is pushing Mayor Dyster to present lawmakers an economic development plan for 2017, the sooner the better.
“I’ve asked the administration to give us a plan for using a portion of the more than $5 million in discretionary casino funds still on the books to spur economic growth,” said Touma this week in an interview with the Niagara Falls Reporter.
Touma said he is not interested in spending all of that discretionary casino cash -some of it rolled over from last year – on new development initiatives, but he sees an opportunity to do a lot of good for the city with some of that money and he’s hopeful to see something soon in the way of a plan from the administration.
“We’re keeping a close eye on the casino funds,” said Touma, adding he would certainly want a substantial portion rolled over into next year. But he believes there’s enough money available in that casino discretionary pot to really spur growth, and that’s what he wants to see from the Dyster team.
“I’ve had talks with the city administrator, and I know they are looking at it,” said Touma. “We can use that money for economic development and get a bigger bang for our buck with an eye toward the future, develop some long term plans that will help our city for years to come.”
In other council news this week, lawmakers approved $500,000 for demolitions which haven’t been done, except for emergencies, since 2014.
The council approved the demolition funds by unanimous vote, with $300,000 earmarked for demolition of unsafe and unkept properties with another $200,000 designated for emergency demolitions. The city will also have another $100,000 available from Community Development for demolitions, and Touma said unsafe properties should be prioritized.
“We need for people to be safe, and that’s the first priority,” said Touma. “But we also need to focus on properties that are nothing more than community blight, eyesores that bring down entire neighborhoods because of their condition. That’s very important, and must be a part of what we are doing with the demolitions.”
While Touma gave way to Charles Walker as council president this year, the educator/politician is still heavily engaged in trying to move the city forward even as he contemplates possibly not running for re-election, although he says he has been receiving plenty of encouragement from residents to stay the course and continue to serve in government. He said he has not made a final decision as yet.