NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB)- A state board is giving Niagara Falls leaders suggestions on how to save money and improve efficiency. The Financial Restructuring Board released a report Monday, outlining more than half a dozen opportunities for the city to save overall more than two million dollars.
“We’re going to face challenges for some time to come but we’ve got to deal with difficult circumstances and try to chart some kind of reasonable path forward,” said Mayor Paul Dyster.
The report suggests the city share services like dispatch or civil services with Niagara County. It calls for consolidating city-wide purchasing, merging the Engineering Department with Public Works and merging the Planning and Environmental Services into Community Development.
It also suggests reassessing all city properties, something Mayor Dyster has sought in the past but received push back. He said this reports gives his request some weight.
“When you get a third party validator coming in and saying you haven’t done a reassessment of property values since 2004, remember this means some people may be under assessed others are over assessed,” he said.
Council Member Kenny Tompkins said it’s going to be a hard sell.
“Until the city, the administration can sell that assessment to the common citizen, that’s going to be a huge sticking block,” said Tompkins.
He said many citizens no longer trust the Dyster administration. Tompkins said the city needs to do a better job tightening its belt, and said spending thousands of dollars on the recent Erendira Wallenda stunt is an example of poor spending practices.
“Personally, I think there should’ve been stronger recommendations,” said Tompkins.
The report also said staffing of the Niagara Falls Police Department could be done more efficiently. Right now, patrol officers work four days in a row, with two days off.
According to the state board, it “has the effect of increasing the size of the required workforce beyond what it would otherwise need to be” because officers work 136 fewer hours than if they worked a five day week, with two days off. The report claims it’s costing the city $1.1 million.
Mayor Dyster said that scheduling has been in place for 30 years. The report suggests it should be changed, and the police command staff should be reduced through attrition.
The report also suggests city employees pick up a larger percentage of health care costs, from about one percent to 15 percent.
Mayor Dyster told News 4 many of these changes are already in the works.
State Senator Rob Ortt and Assemblyman Angelo Morinello released a joint statement in reaction to the report.
““There are two key takeaways from today’s announcement by the Financial Restructuring Board. First, the board delivered a forthright assessment of Niagara Falls’ government and the dire circumstances facing city taxpayers. Make no mistake about it, we’re here because – for decades – every time the city had to make an important decision, they punted or they fumbled. Second, today offers city residents and officials a new start. The valuable recommendations put forth should serve as a starting point and blueprint for a systematic restructuring of city operations. Without drastic changes, the city is heading for a financial control board. Only when we abandon the failed policies of the past can we secure a bright future for Niagara Falls families and businesses.”
Mayor Dyster said the city is not headed towards a financial control board and that the lawmakers took the report out of context.
“I think that our representatives in Albany should go look in the mirror to improve the situation instead of criticizing us,” said Dyster.
Mayor Dyster told News 4 since 2008 local municipalities have lost more than 130 million dollars in state aid. If the state can’t come to an agreement with the Seneca Nation, Niagara Falls will also lose Seneca Niagara Casino revenue, which accounted for about $11 million of the 2017 budget.
Mayor Dyster said the loss of that revenue will impact the 2018 budget.
The state board said it will monitor that situation and provide help if needed.
The city will look at all of the recommendations and reply to the board with questions, then they will have the opportunity to seek grant money from the board to offset the cost of implementing some cost-saving measures.