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Cuomo announces $12.3 million to make up Niagara Falls' lost casino revenues

Niagara Falls officials were grateful to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Wednesday for sending $12.3 million to the city to replace Seneca Niagara Casino profits the city is no longer receiving.

But Mayor Paul A. Dyster and City Council members agreed that the city's budget problems have not disappeared.

"I want to caution people against believing that somehow now we don't have to make difficult decisions. We do," Dyster said.

"It buys some time, but it's not the overall solution," Council Chairman Andrew P. Touma said.

Although Dyster said major police and firefighter layoffs now are "off the table," he and Touma said there still could be some job cuts. Also, the proposed new garbage user fee, announced at $198 a year, may be imposed in some amount. Dyster's proposed 2019 budget will be released Friday.

"As you know there is a dispute, and the Senecas have refused to pay," Cuomo said Wednesday in Buffalo. "That’s created a hardship for Niagara Falls. The state is going to advance $12.3 million to the City of Niagara Falls to help with that shortfall. We believe the arbitration will be concluded toward the end of this year. We're now in that process. But in the meantime Niagara Falls is suffering, and the state wants to do what it can do to be helpful. So we'll be advancing $12.3 million — (an) advance against the revenues that will be collected once the matter is resolved."

Dyster said the money doesn't have to be repaid whether or not the state wins the Seneca arbitration. "There are no specific strings that were attached to it," he said.

But Dyster said he will definitely not recommend spending all of the $12.3 million. "That would be foolish," he said.

Republican Councilman Christopher P. Voccio said the city, whose budget this year was $91.4 million, has about $80 million in recurring revenues.

"I think we can figure out a way to run the city on that $80 million," Voccio said. "If we do that, when the casino money does come flowing in, we can rebuild the city."

The Seneca Nation of Indians stopped paying the state a share of the slot machines profits from Seneca Niagara Casino after 2016, contending that the payment clause in the original casino compact between the Senecas and the state had expired.

The state took the Senecas to arbitration. The three-member arbitration panel won't hold its first hearing until mid-December

Seneca Nation President Todd Gates blasted the bailout.

"If the governor wants to prop up the mayor’s failed financial leadership with the hundreds of millions of dollars in Seneca money which the state received and kept, that is a matter between their governments," Gates said. "The compact is crystal clear on our 14-year payment obligations, and we believe that will be upheld through the compact's binding arbitration."

Municipalities upstate feel the pinch as Senecas end casino payments

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