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Audit puts reserves at $8.6 million

At the beginning of this year, the city had more than $8.6 million in savings for emergencies and property tax relief mostly because of an influx of state aid that city leaders had not anticipated over the previous two years.

An independent audit of the city's finances for last year, released Monday, shows the city has $2.9 million in its undesignated reserve fund and another $5.7 million in unbudgeted state aid designated for property tax relief.

The audit echoed a report released by the state comptroller's office in November that showed new state aid had helped improve the city's financial picture.

Two years ago, an audit of the city's 2004 finances warned that the Falls had ended the year with an operating loss and had nearly depleted its reserve funds.

City Controller Maria Brown told the Council that the city has not tapped additional state aid it received last year. Mayor Vince Anello has proposed using the money over the next three years to avoid tax increases.

"The good news is we haven't been drawing down from it," Brown said of the unexpected state aid. "We've been using just the fund balance."

Anello and the Council already have spent another $482,514 left over from last year on city expenses this year.

Monday, city leaders approved using $41,000 from reserve funds to pay for a neighborhood cleanup team and emergency roof repairs to the historic U.S. Customs House on Whirlpool Street. The Council approved spending another $34,900 from its community development budget on a second neighborhood cleanup team.

The Council also unanimously voted to spend $55,000 from interest the city has earned on slot machine revenue to pay for an operating engineer, overtime costs and equipment for grass cutting, debris pickup and park maintenance.

More than five residents and business owners complained during the meeting Monday that the city has failed to keep up with weeds, grass and garbage throughout the city.

Roger Spurback, a Niagara Falls Block Club leader, called the city's condition deplorable. He pointed to a landscaped median on John B. Daly Boulevard where weeds have overgrown other plants.

"Something's definitely wrong in this city," Spurback said.

e-mail: djewell@buffnews.com

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