City Administrator Anthony J. Restaino lashed out Wednesday at what he called an attempt by the Niagara County Legislature to interfere with the city's development policies.
But the chairman of the County Legislature's Committee on Commerce and Tourism said the county just wants to be included in discussions that could result in the removal of property from the tax rolls.
The day after Restaino appeared at a Democratic caucus of the Legislature to prevent adoption of a resolution on Native American gaming, Restaino met with reporters to present the city administration's side of the issue. The county resolution would have asked Gov. Pataki to withhold a decision on Indian casinos until after the voters have a chance to decide whether state-controlled casinos should be legalized.
The city has been contacted by "several groups" interested in bringing Native American gaming to the city, specifically to two vacant downtown locations, the Falls Street Faire and the former Native American Center for the Living Arts, more commonly known as the Turtle. However, no firm proposal has been presented, Restaino said.
Restaino said he feels the county's proposed resolution, developed by the Legislature's Commerce, Transportation and Tourism Committee, would be detrimental to the prospect of Indian gambling in the city. The resolution was not placed before the full Legislature Tuesday.
Restaino accused the county of trying to dictate what the city "can and cannot do with regard to development projects." Restaino, who worked for the county for 10 years before he became city administrator in January, said the move was "unprecedented."
"The real issue is the county wants a piece of the pie. They want a piece of whatever financial benefit may derive from Native American gaming. Putting it before the people, that is the battle cry they're using. But, the bottom line is they want to know what's in it for the county," Restaino said.
However, Legislator Robert R. Villani, D-Town of Niagara, said the county's concern is the potential exercise of sovereign Indian rights over property and any agreements that may be made regarding sovereignty. Indian control of land would remove it from the tax rolls of the city, county and school district, Villani said. Meanwhile county services, such as social services, health, law enforcement and the jail would "probably be affected by gambling."
Villani, who is chairman of the committee handling the proposed resolution, said the concern is that "we represent more people. We represent the county, and the city is part of the county . . . Our concern is for our taxpayers. The taxpayers of the county are affected by anything the city does."
The committee's resolution was similar to a letter written to Pataki two weeks ago by the Niagara Falls Coalition for Casino Gaming.
Larry Krizan, city development director, said a request for a voter referendum on legalizing state-controlled gambling before the governor makes a decision on Indian gaming connects two unrelated issues.
Voter approval is not required for Indian gaming, which the governor can approve through a compact with an eligible tribe. Consequently, an Indian casino could get into operation much more quickly than a state casino, which would require the approval of the State Legislature next year and then of a majority of the voters in the state and county.
Restaino and Krizan said there are pressing reasons to approve Native American gaming. With the advent next month of a casino in Niagara Falls, Ont., the city would suffer the "negatives," such as increases in traffic and crime, without the benefits. The presence of a casino just across the Niagara River, has taken away the decision of whether the community wants to host a casino, Krizan said. In addition, Restaino cited the fact that the City of Buffalo is exploring Native American gaming.
Villani said the upshot of the incident is that the city and county are "closer now than before" and that the county now is part of the discussions. The committee agreed to withdraw the resolution on condition that it meet in two to three weeks with the mayor and city officials, and asked for a letter from mayor assuring that "there would be no proposals, no agreements, no approvals of sovereignty without the knowledge of the county or the county being involved in those discussions between now and when we meet."
Restaino said he would ask Mayor James C. Galie to give the county the assurances it asked for when Galie returns next week from vacationing in Myrtle Beach, S.C. However, Restaino, who is acting mayor in Galie's absence, stressed that the mayor has "the exclusive authority to negotiate" on behalf of the city and will not relinquish that authority.