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Niagara Falls City Council seeks refund over work on 72nd Street water main project

The Niagara Falls City Council took a hard line on two major issues on Monday, both aimed at curbing unnecessary spending.

The Council called on the Niagara Falls Water Board to either return nearly $1 million to the city that the city spent on repairs to the 72nd Street water main project at the end of 2015 or reduce water and sewer rents.

“There’s no reason they should not do both,” said Council Chairman Andrew Touma, who received applause from the audience.

The unanimous appeal to the Office of State Controller comes a month after city leaders learned the results of a state audit that found there was $6.3 million in excess cash in the Niagara Falls Water Board’s debt service fund.

The city was forced to take on the repairs after the Water Board would not agree to fix frozen pipes that left residents with no water two winters in a row.

The resolution approved by the Council called on the Niagara Falls Water Board to “comply” with the audit recommendations and take immediate steps to reimburse the entire cost of $969,650, plus consulting costs, the city incurred. The Niagara Falls Water Board and Water Authority were given 30 days to respond.

Assemblyman John Ceretto, D-Lewiston, told the Council at Monday’s meeting that he supported them and “would love to be part of the resolution.”

On April 4, the Council also requested the state legislature change the method of appointing Water Board and Water Authority members, allowing the city, rather than state leaders, to appoint a majority of members.

The City Council followed up on another April 4 issue regarding a plan for casino spending that was presented by Mayor Paul A. Dyster. He noted that the amount of money the city has been receiving each year from the Seneca Niagara Casino has been decreasing.

Dyster’s report was a lengthy overview of spending by category, but Council members urged the city to set dollar amounts in the budget for spending.

On Monday the City Council presented a spending plan that looked at the bottom line on how to allocate $16. 9 million in casino funds. The plan proposes a reduction in casino spending of 13 percent in 2017, a total decrease of $1.7 million.

Touma said this budget plan through 2020 would continue to add $1 million each year in order to create a $4 million capital reserve/contingency fund for the city.

City Controller Maria Brown said the $1.7 million number might frighten people, but it doesn’t mean they will have to make cuts.

“I don’t want people to panic. It just means this money is not available,” said Brown.

Touma said rather than pay-as-you go, they may have to look at bonding for things like roads and equipment.

Council person Charles Walker suggested making deeper cuts in the city budget and pulling back on salaries so they can use casino money to invest in the community.

“Things are worse, rather than better than they were 15 years ago,” said Walker.

Other city entities that have been allocated 26.5 percent in city casino funding would not be affected in any cuts.