WASHINGTON — Rep. Tom Reed and officials in the City of Salamanca say the ongoing spat between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Seneca Nation of Indians is now literally a matter of life and death in the cash-starved Cattaraugus County city of more than 5,000.
The city wanted to expand its emergency services, those officials said Wednesday, but couldn't do so because of a $6 million hole in the city's $9 million budget created by the battle between the governor and the Senecas.
That leaves the city with only one ambulance crew — which recently took 29 minutes to respond to a city resident suffering from cardiac arrest, because it was tied up on another call.
That resident subsequently died, said Salamanca Fire Chief Nick Bocharski.
“Governor, this falls directly in your lap,” Bocharski said.
But Robert Mujica, director of the state's Division of the Budget, said the real fault for Salamanca's problems lies with the city's leaders. Unlike officials in Niagara Falls, Salamanca leaders did not directly ask for help in covering the budget hole blown open more than two years ago, when the Seneca Nation stopped making payments to the state out of its casino revenues, Mujica said.
"They have to call us and tell us what their needs are," he said.
Reed, a Republican from Corning, turned his weekly conference call with reporters into a forum for Bocharski and Salamanca Mayor Mike Smith to complain about the governor.
"We made a call (to the state) six weeks ago, and the response was: It's not looking good up the line," Smith said. "It doesn't look good for the money."
But Mujica said the state last heard from Salamanca officials in April.
He said they didn't spell out the city's needs the way Niagara Falls officials — which received millions in state aid to make up for the loss of casino revenues — did.
"If (Salamanca officials) had called us and asked us for money, we would have dealt with them," he said. "We would have made a payment to them just like any other municipality."
The spat over funding for Salamanca stems from the long-running battle over whether the Seneca Nation — which operates casinos in Salamanca, Niagara Falls and Buffalo — should share its casino revenue with the state.
The tribe contends that its 2002 gaming compact with the state did not specify that the tribe had to keep sharing 25 percent of its slot machine revenues with the state after the deal's 14th year. But a federal arbitration panel earlier this year ruled otherwise, saying the tribe owes the state $255 million in shared revenues for the previous two years.
The state has long shared those revenues with the cities that host casinos — or at least it did, until the slot machine money stopped flowing to Albany.
The lack of casino revenue is particularly important to Salamanca, which has an unusually narrow tax base because most of the city is located on Seneca Nation land, meaning it can't be taxed.
"It is clear to me that the governor has made a conscious decision to hold the city of Salamanca hostage and not make any payment to the city of Salamanca," Reed said.
Wednesday's conference call was just Reed's latest effort to pressure Cuomo to resolve the dispute with the Senecas. Last week, Reed asked U.S. Attorney General William Barr to investigate whether Cuomo's administration was deliberately neglecting a crumbling section of the Thruway that crosses the Senecas' Cattaraugus reservation, all in hopes of putting pressure on the tribe.
Mujica, the state budget director, doesn't think much of Reed's involvement in the issue.
"Once again, Congressman Reed is serving as the Seneca Nation's favorite lackey," Mujica said.