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Falls community funding up for debate

NIAGARA FALLS -- The city's 2013 budget will be the big-ticket item at Thursday's special meeting of the city council. But also on the agenda is a topic that has been debated just as hotly in recent weeks.

The council will vote to approve the city's 2013 budget for the community development department. Director Seth A. Piccirillo tried to present the budget two weeks ago, but was rebuffed by the council on procedural grounds.

The council has since made revisions to the budget, adding funding for Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and for more demolitions in the city while decreasing funds for some of Mayor Paul A. Dyster's priorities -- the city's blight-clearing ZOOM team and the Niagara Arts & Cultural Center.

 The budget has turned into a battleground for philosophical differences about where the city should be allocating its scarce funding -- and about what process should be followed for making those decisions.

Piccirillo said the council had ample time to make revisions to the budget before the last two weeks. The budget was handed draft copies on Sept. 7, he said, and did not bring up objections until recently, after the public comment period was complete.

"When things are changed at the last minute, it doesn't attract people to be part of the public comment process, if they don't think they're building a budget," Piccirillo said.

Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti has also leveled criticism on her fellow council members, who tend to align against her and Dyster on certain projects. Grandinetti accused the council of making deals for funding out of the public's view.  

Council Chairman Sam Fruscione, meanwhile, accused Grandinetti of politicizing the issue, saying it "got turned into chaos" with her involvement.

Fruscione said he approves of the budget the way it currently reads. The council will vote on the plan at 4 p.m. Thursday in council chambers, City Hall, 745 Main St. You can view a full copy of the budget at http://www.nf-cd.org/

-Charlie Specht

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