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Frustration grows over casino aid; Funds to Falls blocked again

City Council leaders on Monday said the Seneca Nation of Indians Tribal Council has, for the second time in recent months, held up an agreement that would allow slot machine revenues from the Seneca Niagara Casino to be paid to the city.

Council Chairman Sam Fruscione and Councilman Glenn A. Choolokian, after meeting with officials from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office, said the Seneca council scuttled a deal six weeks ago that would have restored more than $50 million to the city.

In addition, they emphasized that services the city provides to the casino -- such as police and fire coverage -- could conceivably be revoked if no agreement is struck between the two parties that would pay the city the funds.

"The City of Niagara Falls is not powerless in this [dispute]," Mayor Paul A. Dyster said. "There are certain unilateral actions we can take."

Dyster said he could envision no scenario in which he would order city firefighters not to respond to a fire at the casino. But officials said that, if the revenues are not released to the city, the state could choose not to renew the compact that allows the casino when it expires in 2014.

Tensions have risen in recent weeks as the dispute has helped cause a cash shortfall in the city and city leaders have implored the state and Senecas to resolve the issue. Arbitration between the two parties will begin in less than two weeks, state leaders told Fruscione at a recent meeting in Albany.

Fruscione said the state hopes to end the arbitration in the next 90 days, while the Seneca Council is seeking a one-year arbitration time-frame and "appears not to be in a hurry to resolve the matter."

"If this thing goes south, we're stuck," said Councilman Charles Walker. "It's not a good thing for the taxpayers in this city."

According to the councilmen, state leaders said they offered to allow the Senecas to make a direct payment to the city six weeks ago, and Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter was ready to work with the state, but the Tribal Council declined. The Seneca council scuttled a similar deal in November when a solution to the impasse seemed imminent.

Fruscione added that Porter, the president, is "sincerely concerned" that the city has not received the money. Dyster has also mirrored that sentiment.

State leaders have said they will consider offering the city a $5 million loan to cover debt payments the city is making on its public safety complex, which were to be funded by casino revenues.

Arbitration is expected to begin in the next 10 days, Fruscione said.