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Niagara Falls Council demands an accounting of casino spending from Mayor Dyster

NIAGARA FALLS – The City Council wants Mayor Paul A. Dyster to submit a casino spending plan for consideration by its April 4 meeting.

According to a resolution adopted last week, the mayor has given Council members verbal encouragement, but has yet to submit a plan. According to the adopted resolution, if no plan is in place by April 4, the Council will adopt its own plan by April 18.

The issue has become more pressing in the last few years as funds paid to the city from the Seneca Niagara Casino agreement have been dwindling due to increased competition.

A volunteer financial advisory panel came to several meetings and warned the city to cut back on its use of casino funds.

Advisory Panel Chairman Carmen Granto said in November and again in February that if the city does not change its spendthrift ways, there will be no casino money for investment, but instead it will be all committed to the general fund.

“What concerns us more than the dollar figures is that there seems to be a lack of urgency to address these issues,” Granto said last month. “The longer you wait, the fewer options you are going to have and there will be more severe consequences.”

Dyster told the Council last week that city officials are aware that revenues are declining and now they have to make decisions on which programs to fund going forward that are different from the decisions they might make if they had more money.

Council Member Charles Walker told Dyster the Council has been asking for a better accounting of how the money is spent for “some time.”

Walker said, “There are times that we had the plan in front of us and we used the money for something else.”

“Things happen sometimes that require us to make expenditures we didn’t plan and Council approves every single expenditure of casino revenue,” Dyster said.

He gave the example of the Lockport Street project, which is going out to bid in the fall. He said that in the capital plan, officials had not anticipated the project moving forward until 2017, but it is eligible for “very significant” reimbursements in 2016 that allowed the city to pay “pennies on the dollar” by moving forward in 2016.

The Council also adopted a restrictions to its vendors and peddlers law that would prohibit door-to-door sales in a residential district.

Police Chief E. Bryan DalPorto praised the crackdown, saying many of these salespeople are not reputable.

“What we have found through the years is we get a lot of burglaries and stolen property complaints and, frankly, most don’t take the time to get a city license,” he said. “As a society we have moved past door-to-door sales being effective and they are usually out there to prey on our citizens.”