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Obama gets block grant message, Dyster says ; Falls mayor joins in White House visit

A trip to the White House with more than 200 other mayors has left Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster with the impression that the president was sensitive to their concerns about a key source of community development money.

Speaking by phone Friday from the U.S. Conference of Mayor's winter meeting, Dyster said President Obama acknowledged calls to keep funding stable for community development block grants.

"The big round of applause he got was when he said that he had heard the mayors' call to avoid cuts in the community development block grant program," Dyster said.

Obama spoke to the mayors Friday morning in the East Room before departing for a public event in Schenectady.

The president, however, stopped short of promising the mayors the funding would not be cut, Dyster said.

"He didn't actually directly state that he was going to oppose any cuts there, but he basically said that he had heard the mayors' call and that he was going to be certain that there was nobody anywhere that had to bear disproportionate pain in the budget," Dyster recounted.

As part of its "2011 metro agenda," the U.S. Conference of Mayors is lobbying federal lawmakers to keep block grant funding stable. The group contends that any cuts in the program would "severely slow down or eliminate thousands of local and state projects and programs that are directly contributing to local and regional recovery."

Dyster said the mayors are concerned that efforts to trim spending could affect block grant funding.

Niagara Falls has used the millions of dollars from the federal program in recent years for a variety of projects, including demolishing vacant buildings, rehabilitating housing and running police substations.

This year, according to an annual plan prepared by the city, Falls officials expect to receive about $2.5 million in such federal grants.

Dyster called Niagara Falls a "major stakeholder" in the future of the program.

"Community development block grant funding is very important to us as a poorer city," Dyster said. "These are funds that don't come out of the [local property] tax levy."

Dyster, according to a list of attendees who had registered in advance, was the only mayor from Western New York to attend the conference. Falls City Administrator Donna D. Owens also attended. They will stay in Washington until today for a meeting of the Mayors Innovation Project.

Dyster estimated the cost for him and Owens to attend the two conferences at $2,100, including the registration fee, air fare and hotel stays. Dyster said his wife, Rebecca, paid her own way to travel to Washington for the conference.

The annual Conference of Mayors, Dyster said, gives city leaders the chance to hear directly from Cabinet-level administration officials and federal lawmakers about funding opportunities, as well as to learn about what other cities are doing.

e-mail: djgee@buffnews.com

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