The City of Niagara Falls has squandered millions in windfall cash from the Seneca Nation of Indians’ gaming compact with the State of New York — with nothing to show for it but a structural operating deficit that now exceeds $10 million a year.
Rather than investing in streetscape infrastructure, waterfront access, park improvements, and other capital projects that would have benefited the City’s economy and tax base long-term, it was used to pay for Mayor Paul Dyster‘s fleeting patronage considerations — essentially buying him two reelections with money that could have helped ignite the renaissance that we were promised in 2002.
Instead, he gave us a bloated government for twelve years — one that didn’t live within its means merely because it didn’t want to. Lacking the political courage to make the tough budget cuts that are now inevitable, Dyster burdened us with a leadership void during that narrow number of years when leadership could have made all the difference.
Imagine what $150 million could have done for the small business districts that continue to struggle on Pine Avenue and Main Street. Our comeback could have been in full swing at this late date. Instead, he gave us a few more cops on the street to distract us from the many politically connected patronage staffers now on the payroll at City Hall.
To fix Niagara Falls’ structural fiscal deficit, we need to make massive cuts to the City’s operating budget. The only way to do this while maintaining an acceptable level of public services is to regionalize municipal governance in order to achieve more advantageous per-capita costs of service delivery.
There are twenty municipal governments in Niagara County.
Consolidating town courts, permitting, records, police, fire, zoning, and other functions would save Niagara County millions of dollars every year. By some estimates, a regional governance model would allow for a 30% reduction in the property tax levy.
More importantly: it would end the narrow-minded, short-sighted, and exceedingly localized squabbling that has debilitated the City of Niagara Falls’ ability to govern itself. It’s going to take the entirety of Niagara County to fix the mess that’s been made of the Falls.