The city administration has to do a better job explaining how it spends taxpayers' money and what the consequences of choices are, the president of the Greater Niagara Manufacturers Association said Monday.
Thomas J. Feeney, who is also manager of Occidental Chemical Corp.'s Niagara plant, made the comment Tuesday at the end of the second in a series of meetings called by Mayor Irene J. Elia to discuss the city's budget. The two-hour session contained a good deal of blame and finger-pointing by Paul G. Colangelo, director of parks and public works, and some union leaders, aimed mainly at the five City Council members who did not attend.
Feeney told Colangelo that taxpayers need to know how the department spends its $16 million budget and what it provides in comparison with other cities.
"Sixteen million dollars for a city the size of Niagara Falls. I don't know what that means," Feeney said. What do you want to do with it? If you had another $15 million what would you do with it?"
Councilman Paul A. Dyster agreed the city has to do a better job of telling people what government's priorities are and what level of service it provides for the tax dollars.
He said new mandates coming in the next few years will force municipalities to make budget documents more understandable and more useful to the elected officials who have to make the decisions. If people knew what things cost, they could determine what they are willing to pay for, Dyster said. One of the biggest frustrations he is encountering from members of the public is the condition of city streets.
"We've got high taxes and yet we've got potholes. My sense is people would be willing to pay more . . . if we could tell them streets were going to be better. If we could tell the story in that way, we could tell the Council and the taxpayers the story in a much more rational way," Dyster said.
Frances M. Iusi, the only other Council member to attend, said benchmarks and best practices also have to be established.
"We've got to have benchmarks. How much does it cost the state to pave a mile of road? How much does it cost us?" she asked.
Colangelo and City Engineer Ashok K. Kapoor detailed the effects of budget cuts on services the city provides, including a potential loss of state and federal street funds because they are based, in part, on what the city spends.
"It's great to talk about additional revenue, but every day you should be looking at how do you reduce costs and improve value," Feeney said.
Elia established the budget series after people from the business community, such as Feeney and Charles P. Steiner, president of the Niagara Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, complained about rising property taxes and sewer and water rates. They called for a review of city operations and the entire budget process and renewed an offer to help that had been made to previous administrations.
Steiner said there isn't enough public discussion about what's most important and what has the greatest impact on people.
Colangelo took aim at the Council majority, who were not present, for what he said was a budget that "decimated" his department "with no plan, no method, no answer."