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After Niagara Falls bailout, other entities that lost casino cash want state aid

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's announcement that the City of Niagara Falls would receive a $12.3 million advance on unpaid Seneca Niagara Casino revenue was good news for the Falls on Wednesday, but it didn't do anything for the other former recipients of the casino cash.

The City of Buffalo has lost out on an estimated $17 million since the Seneca Nation of Indians stopped paying a portion of its slot machine profits to New York State in 2016.

The Senecas say the original casino compact with the state didn't require any payments after that. The Cuomo administration disagrees and an arbitration process is under way, with a ruling expected in mid-December at the earliest.

"The city, as it has said in the past, remains confident," said Michael DeGeorge, spokesman for Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown.

There was no indication from city officials, however, that Cuomo has made any promises to fill Buffalo's $17 million gap if the state loses the case.

"The city has an open line of communication directly with the leadership in Albany, and we feel the situation will be resolved in a manner that is beneficial," DeGeorge said.

The City of Salamanca, however, may be in line for a state bailout of its own if the arbitration favors the Senecas.

Salamanca has a $6 million hole in its $9.1 million budget because of the casino cash cutoff, Mayor Michael R. Smith said Thursday.

How the revenue from Seneca slots used to flow to cities

Smith, whose next Salamanca budget will be prepared in March, said he was contacted by Cuomo's office two or three weeks ago and told help is on the way if the arbitration goes against the state.

"We have received assurances from the Governor's Office that come budget time, the state will be there for the city," Smith said.

Back in Buffalo, Patrick J. Curry, executive assistant to City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder, said in view of the possible $17 million budget gap, a letter will be sent to Albany soon asking for an accelerated payment of Buffalo's regular state aid.

"I haven't heard anything concrete about them fronting us the money. The city could use it," Curry said. "It's typically about $7 million a year, but it's been a while since we got it."

He criticized Brown's administration for putting $17 million from the Senecas in this year's city budget as anticipated revenue. That's the total amount of unpaid casino money dating back to 2016.

"Budgeting anything would be inadvisable, but budgeting 2 1/2 years' worth, we thought was kind of reckless," Curry said. "If it doesn't come in, you've got a $17 million hole."

"Every year, the mayor has presented a fiscally sound, on-time, balanced budget. That's not reckless. That's responsible," DeGeorge said.

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, the Niagara Falls School District and six other agencies in Niagara Falls also used to receive annual slices of the casino pie, in the form of a percentage of the casino payouts the state shared with the City of Niagara Falls. It usually worked out to $750,000 a year for the hospital and another $750,000 for the schools.

But nothing was said about those institutions receiving any of the state's $12.3 million "advance," as Cuomo termed it, which covers one full year and part of a second of unrealized casino revenues for the City of Niagara Falls.

School Superintendent Mark R. Laurrie said he inquired at City Hall and was told the advance was for the city alone. If the state wins the arbitration, money will flow to the other entities. If not, future funding is uncertain.

"I'll be waiting," Laurrie said. "If we win it, we'll put it in our reserve funds. Not knowing what our state (aid) allocations will be, we want to try to keep our tax levy unchanged or maybe even reduce it."

Meanwhile, the state Republican Committee posted a news release and a video Thursday, accusing Cuomo of "a 180-degree reversal" on a Niagara Falls bailout.

"It's not a fair request," Cuomo told a WGRZ reporter last year, when asked about Niagara Falls. "They got paid when the state got paid. But why would I ever guarantee their loss? You know, maybe they want to make up the shortfall to me."

“Gov. Cuomo showed his true colors about what he thinks about the people of Niagara Falls, and they won’t be fooled by an attempted election-year buy-off,"  state GOP Chairman Edward Cox said. "The governor’s corruption and mismanagement has touched every corner of this state from Niagara Falls to Long Island. No amount of money from now until Election Day can hide those facts."

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