By: Mayor Robert M. Restaino
During this first term of office, our administration was forced to navigate a tragic and fiscally devastating pandemic, which delivered an immediate fiscal deficit due to State executive order closures, including staff reduction orders and Federal border closures. Notwithstanding that challenge we were able to work with City unions to manage the difficulty in the short term, administer federal aid to hospitals and social agencies to bring medical and personal relief to residents to residents and keep government operating. At that time I was asked by the Governor to be a member of the WNY Pandemic Control Room, a team that brought government, healthcare and social agency leaders together to work, in a nonpartisan collaborative effort, to keep residents as safe as possible in uncertain times.
Just as the pandemic was taking hold of the economy the country dealt with the horrific murder of George Floyd. Our City, like others across the nation, reacted and I am proud to say that our administration, working with our Federal and State partners, and local groups, had a series of peaceful protests that expressed our City’s outrage without the violence, destruction and damage seen in other WNY cities.
These events all occurred in the first year of the term (March 2020) and lasted, in some form or another, through November 2021, when the international bridge was fully opened. A period of 20 months with some form of “irregularity” impacting government operation. Through it all our administration worked to bring financial stability, advance economic development, create opportunities for workforce development, expedite property transfers, hold developers accountable, establish collaborative relationships with Federal, State, County and affiliated local government units to improve our City’s effort to develop and, in doing so, create job opportunities to reduce poverty.
Much has been hindered by the public health circumstances that plagued communities across the region, but we have successfully accomplished the following:
- In 2021 we eliminated the 2020 pandemic caused budget deficit and ended the 2021 budget year with a budget surplus.
- In 2022 we ended the budget year with a budget surplus and for the first time in half a decade Niagara Falls was removed from the “fiscally distressed cities list” issued by the NYS Comptroller.
- These budget surpluses are the first time in years that City government has had a budget surplus, and the two consecutive years, while coming out of the fiscal impacts of the pandemic, is a substantial accomplishment while we continue to drive down budget dependence on casino revenue.
- As a result, we have achieved an upgrade in our fiscal outlook by bond agencies due to our fiscal management.
- We have presented three consecutive City budgets without amendment, due to our collaborative effort with the City Council to inform the Council early in the process of budget formation. This nonpartisan partnership with the Council is exactly what City residents expect from City government and is critical to our City’s effort to rebound from years of unnecessary and unproductive government acrimony.
- We will soon announce a new vocational training hub, in our City, in partnership with the Niagara County Building Trades and NYS to provide a direct pipeline to union trades at a time when union trade membership is dwindling.
- Our administration’s partnership with State officials has never been stronger and our message of creating a City not for tourists only, but entertainment for residents to enjoy – year round – has resulted in tangible products, the proposed outdoor Gorge view Amphitheatre at the former DeFranco park site (between Discovery Way and Whirlpool Street) and the skating sport pad at the proposed Hydraulic Canal park site (between 1st and 2nd Streets downtown).
- Our administration has created a solid partnership with the Niagara-Orleans Land Bank, a formerly untapped resource, to move dormant city owned parcels into the hands of home builders to create single and multi-family homes in areas long left neglected. While the process is methodical it is a partnership with the City that has opened new opportunities for neighborhood development.
- We have expanded our partnership with Niagara University to further engage the University staff and students in everything from workforce development, hospitality management, technology development and student housing, to name a few areas.
- Our administration has established our City as a fertile location for new business in manufacturing, technology, healthcare and food processing industries. We are currently in active discussions with domestic and foreign companies for expansion and/or relocation of their respective facilities to our City – bringing jobs from entry level to mid management along with construction jobs to build out facilities.
- Hospitality is a key component of our local economy and yet every year, in late fall, 1/3 to ½ of our workforce is laid off because there has been no effort to find a way to engage the 12 million residents, living 90 miles east and west of our City, to come to Niagara Falls in the winter. Our administration has proposed a plan to bring year-round entertainment downtown and change the hospitality industry from being seasonal to providing year-round employment to those who wish to work in that to deteriorate industry. The park and event center plan would help engage the winter season, first as an outdoor location for locals to enjoy year-round and the event center would provide a venue, unmatched in the region, for entertainment, year-round. There are no other plans proposed or presented and our City needs to think boldly if it is going to move forward – the actions of the past and the empty broken promises of outsiders have yielded nothing.
- Our administration is unapologetic for defending the rights of residents to the quiet use and enjoyment of their homes from industries that invade their neighborhoods and disrupt the quality of life, we will continue to take the steps necessary to protect our residents. We have also taken on corporate property owners that have long held our City hostage by making empty promises, delivering no development and bringing property tax reduction cases to court so as to reduce their fair share and shift the burden to the rest of the City – a twofold hit – no economic development and a property tax shift. We will take the necessary action to secure our own economic development future.
- Our administration will also hold accountable those corporate property owners that hold commercial property and allow it to deteriorate to dangerous conditions, provide no remediation and don’t even pay their taxes – our administration won’t side with them, we want them to be accountable.
Although our administration has accomplished a lot in this first term in office, there is still more work to be done. By way of the effort and results achieved in this first term, I hope to have earned your vote for re-election, so that together we can finish the job and continue the progress!