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Falls City Council will have new chairman

By Charlie Specht

It appears Glenn A. Choolokian will soon become the next chairman of the Niagara Falls City Council.

Choolokian said he expects to be nominated for the position Monday, when the council will officially vote on its new leader. 

Two other council allies -- Bob Anderson and Sam Fruscione -- have pledged their votes to Choolokian, so barring a last-minute surprise the two-time councilman will be the next leader of the council. Just three votes are needed to secure the chairmanship.

Choolokian made headlines earlier this year because of a somewhat secretive pay raise he received from the Niagara Falls Water Board. But his political profile rose in recent months as the lead architect of budget cuts that saved jobs and eliminated a tax hike proposed by Mayor Paul Dyster.

Choolokian, 47, has spent two decades as a buildings and grounds worker at the water plant. I'll have a longer profile of him in the Niagara Weekend section on Sunday. Pick one up.

(On a related note, Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti has announced she will run for re-election this year. She is one of three lawmakers -- Charles Walker and Fruscione are the others -- who are expected to run in November.)

State leaders getting on same page in Niagara Falls?

They were listed almost as footnotes in the new state deal allowing the Maid of the Mist to stay in business on the American side of the falls.

But state leaders are pointing to recent plans to enhance the Niagara Falls waterfront as big changes that could change the visitor experience for years to come.

Activities like biking, hiking, fishing, horseback riding and zip-lining at Niagara Falls State Park are part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's plan to revitalize Western New York with a $1 billion investment.


The plans -- announced during Cuomo's visit to Buffalo and Niagara Falls last week -- came days before the state parks agency unveiled a new-look section of the Robert Moses Parkway that would connect pedestrians to the Niagara River.

Some are wondering whether the two plans' similarities are indicative of a new level of cooperation among state bureacrats in Niagara Falls, where a slew of agencies have controlled much of the city's valuable land, often without any clear coordination.

(The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, for instance, controls the most valuable area around the falls and much of the city's waterfront. The state's USA Niagara Development Corp. heads development outside the park. And right between their land sits the Robert Moses Parkway, controlled in part by the state Department of Transportation.)

It was slightly odd last week to sit in a state office building and see design consultants sitting around a table with top officials from the city, state parks, state development and an ally of the governor-- all who were in agreement on the recent waterfront steps.

That wasn't always the case. Just six years ago, the development agency announced plans to make changes to the parkway before state parks but on the brakes to study the initiative more.

Some say the long practice of government agencies acting in their own "silos" in Niagara Falls is slowly eroding, while others caution the cooperation may just be a sign the current waterfront moves are common sense steps -- easy issues to agree on.

We'll see how long the cooperation lasts, especially when the more contentious issue -- the northern section of the Robert Moses -- comes up next year.      

If bureaucracy gives way to progress, though, most say that can only be a good thing for Niagara Falls.

-Charlie Specht (Twitter: @CharlieBuffNews)

Cuomo: New York 'is living up to' casino deal

NIAGARA FALLS -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday that New York State "is living up to" the agreement it signed a decade ago permitting Indian casinos in Western New York.

In town last week for a series of economic development announcements, Cuomo was asked what happens to Niagara Falls if the state loses its arbitration battle with the Seneca Nation of Indians, who feel the state has violated the terms of the deal by allowing "racinos" in the Southtowns.

"I am confident that the state at the end of the day will prevail on the contract," Cuomo told reporters. "The Senecas will pay what they are supposed to pay by the contract. I believe whenever possible to come to a mutual agreement but a contract is a contract and the law is the law and when we make arrangements with a group to pay a certain amount of money, they should pay a certain amount of money."

The Indian nation has withheld roughly $58 million in slot machine revenues that would normally be paid to the city, and leaders have struggled to balance their budget without the funds.

While the Senecas have made their thoughts on the matter known, Cuomo's comments are one of the few instances where state leaders have said they are indeed living up to the casino deal.

"I want to get not only the people of Niagara Falls but the people of this state the money they were entitled to," Cuomo added. "We made an agreement, everyone has to live up to the agreement. The state is living up to the agreement, so should the other side."

The matter is in arbitration and is expected to be decided early next year.

-Charlie Specht

City of Niagara Falls payroll

With the Niagara Falls city budget a hot topic as of late, some of our readers have recently called to ask about the salaries of city employees.

At the beginning of each year, The Buffalo News obtains the payrolls of all the municipalities within our coverage areas. We use the information -- which is public and can be attained by any resident through the state's Freedom of Information Law -- throughout the year on various stories.

To answer some recent reader questions, the 2011 payroll for the City of Niagara Falls is posted at the link below. We won't obtain this year's payroll until after the New Year, but we will be sure to post that one as well.    

Buffalo News yearly salary foil final

-Charlie Specht

Niagara Falls council budget cuts

The Niagara Falls City Council last night trimmed more than $3 million from Mayor Paul A. Dyster's proposed budget, averting an 8 percent tax hike and roughly one-half of the two dozen layoffs proposed by the mayor. 

SamYou can read my full story in today's paper here and see a complete listing of the 150 budget amendments here

This budget isn't final, of course -- the mayor is likely to veto many of the cuts -- but Council Chairman Sam Fruscione (left) is confident many will stand, telling me the votes "are in the bank" to uphold the substantial cuts.

It's also important to note that there was no talk last night of the city taking a $13 million advance from the New York Power Authority. Council Chairman Sam Fruscione opposes the idea -- it essentially robs the future to pay for the present, he says -- and has given no indication the council will move to accept the funds.   

- Charlie Specht (@CharlieBuffNews)

List of expenses from Seneca Niagara Casino revenues


Falls residents rally for library funding

By Charlie Specht

NIAGARA FALLS -- City residents packed City Council chambers Tuesday to push for fiscal discipline and a budget that doesn't include layoffs or an 8 percent tax hike.

And while many challenged the city to live within its means, one budget item residents want restored is funding for the Earl W. Brydges Public Library.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster's proposed budget includes a decrease of $100,000 in library funding, a cut that would bring total city funding for the library down to $1.7 million.

LibpicLibrary leaders say that cut would likely end a new program that provides healthy activities for city teens, and it could also mean the end of three positions at the library.

"I’ve been able to see the incredible impact that center is having on our young people ... so that they can develop into positive residents and hopefully help combat this population bleed we’ve been dealing with for many, many decades," said Frank T. Croisdale, who runs the Niagara Rises non-profit that works to combat juvenile delinquency.

A few dozen children accompanied library leaders to the first row of Council chambers, where they held signs in support of restoring the funding.

"Kids have been doing a lot of bad stuff recently," one teen told the council. "If you cut the library, that’s just cutting another place for kids to do [good] stuff, because there’s not much for kids to do in Niagara Falls."

City resident Ken Hamilton, a former library board member, said the library helped him choose his future career.

"I grew up poor and motherless, and my window into the world was the Carnegie building of the Niagara Falls Public Library," Hamilton said. "It’s part of the reason I joined the Navy, to see all the places I had read about at the library."

One resident questioned where the funds for the library would come from, and noted the 2013 budget does include $125,000 worth of improvements to the library's parking lot and surrounding sidewalks.

But Hamilton said the library benefits the poorest members of the Niagara Falls community, many who come off the street.

"It is a respite, it is an oasis in the middle of the city, and when they’re in there, it is a glimmer of hope that they can open up a book and escape the existence that they live while they’re turning those pages … and we have to keep that," Hamilton said.

A final decision on the library's funding is expected near the end of the month after the City Council amends the proposed budget.


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

-Charlie Specht

Live blog of Niagara Falls City Council meeting

Join me tonight for a live blog of the Niagara Falls City Council meeting. The work session begins at 4 p.m. and the regular meeting at 7 p.m.

You can read the council agenda here and the meeting resolutions here.

The big item tonight is Mayor Paul A. Dyster's presentation of his 2013 budget. Due to the nonpayment of more than $58 million in slot machine revenue from the Seneca Niagara Casino, this year's budget is expected to be painful. Talk of layoffs has been swirling in City Hall for weeks, and we will find out tonight if they become reality.

For comparison, here's the 2012 budget

UPDATE: 3:55 P.M.: The budget presentation has been postponed, according to a city official, and will not come tonight. No word yet on when the budget will be presented.  

-News Niagara Reporter Charlie Specht 

Live blog of Niagara Falls City Council meeting

Join me tonight for a live blog of the Niagara Falls City Council meeting. The work session begins at 4 p.m. and the regular meeting at 7 p.m.

You can read the council agenda here and the meeting resolutions here.

It's a short agenda, probably the shortest of the year, so the meeting may be brief. But the council -- and the public -- will likely have something to say about the dispute between the Seneca Nation of Indians and the state, and how the city is suffering because of it. 

Last weekend, we looked into the latest twist of that issue here. Stay tuned.

-News Niagara Reporter Charlie Specht


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