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Niagara Falls mayor, Council discuss plans for spending casino revenues as amount drops

NIAGARA FALLS – There’s good news and bad news when it comes to casino revenue spending, according to a report issued by Mayor Paul A. Dyster at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Dyster said the good news was that the agreement allowing the state and the city to receive a percentage of slot machine revenues from Seneca Niagara Casino has been extended through 2023.

The bad news is that the funding the city receives continues to decrease by millions of dollars each year, from a high of $21 million down to $17 million in recent years, as overall casino revenues decrease. The decreases are tied to the falling Canadian dollar and competition from other casinos in the state. The state currently receives 75 percent of the slot machine revenue, and the city gets 25 percent. A plan that would have flipped that percentage and given the city more failed. Dyster said he understands why that was not popular statewide, but he said the state needs to provide some type of a plan to keep funding levels from dipping.

Dyster said casino revenue should be provided to remove the tax burden from city taxpayers.

“Fifty-two acres in the middle of our downtown are gone forever,” Dyster said of the land given to the Seneca Nation. “No bed tax, no sales tax – it creates a stress on the general fund.”

The mayor added, “I don’t know any other city that was asked to give away land in perpetuity. We did what we were asked to do.”

Councilman Charles A. Walker urged the city to set dollar amounts in the budget for spending casino funds.

“We don’t have a plan based on expenses coming down the road,” Walker said. “Without a plan, we are going to be in trouble.”

Dyster and the Council also honored Shawn “Baby Shawn” Kennedy for his bravery in the face of adversity. The 5-year-old boy was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer known as diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma.

Shawn appeared before the Council with his mother, Nicole Vathy, and several members of his family as a proclamation was read. Dyster gave him a “key to the city” replica pin in exchange for a hug.

The Council also approved, 4-1, a resolution that would ask the State Legislature to change the method of appointments to the Niagara Falls Water Board, allowing the city, rather than the state, to control appointing new members.

The action came after a state Comptroller’s Office audit found that the Water Board’s debt service fund had “excess cash” of $6.3 million at a time when they had refused to help pay for $1 million in city repairs to fix waterlines that froze two years in a row.