With major revenue problems and the major local industry in the tank, Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said his proposed spending plan solves major problems in this year's budget and delivered a balanced budget for next year to the City Council Monday evening.
The city has been squeezed for years by the fight between Albany and the Seneca Nation over the casino revenues the city had come to depend on, but have now stopped. In presenting his budget, the mayor told the Council he is trying to wean the city off casino revenues because they are uncertain.
His proposal eliminates the deficit that developed this year, as the tourist business collapsed under COVID, in a total budget that is smaller than this year.
"Erases the $4.5 million budget gap, avoids cuts in essential services, preserves our public safety staff and reduces our reliance on casino revenues," he said. "The fiscal year 2021 proposed budget has a year-over-year reduction in expenses from 2020 of a little more than $500,000."
Restaino said putting this budget together was difficult.
"We came in to a previously approved budget that was already structurally out of balance and then we were faced with a $4.5 million deficit caused by uncertainty in revenue and contractual expenses," he said. "We were unwilling to make Draconian cuts that would negatively impact service or place the full weight on property taxpayers to bridge the gap."
Restaino said his proposed budget does include a tax increase, which remains below the tax cap. A budget hearing on the spending plan is next Tuesday.
The Council also approved a new agreement with the city's four public safety unions, which continue current staffing limits while providing some savings to the city and requiring the city to fill current police and firefighter vacancies.
"Unions didn't have to come forward and yield anything, but they are," Restaino said, "and so there is a savings this year, and with the thought process that where we are with this pandemic, Councilmen, we've been through some pretty tough budgets here and it seems like one after another."