NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. - Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster raised some eyebrows on Tuesday morning when he weighed in on the dispute between New York State and the Seneca Nation that is costing the cataract city millions of dollars.
"This is a very emotional thing for me, we're facing an extraordinarily difficult budget situation going forward as a result of the failure of the Senecas to pay the revenue to New York State," Dyster said on Tuesday morning at 9/11 memorial service in Niagara Falls. "If we reach a situation where we are talking about layoffs to firefighters, I think long before that happens, there is going to be a call from me to the gaming corporation informing them that they can no longer count on a fire response to their high rise hotel."
Dyster's comments come as the Seneca refuse to pay out around $60 million to Niagara Falls and more money to Buffalo and Allegany. They are protesting New York State's decision to market race track racinos as full fledged casinos, and create additional state run gaming facilities which the Seneca say is in violation of the gaming compact they signed with the state.
Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter issued the following statement in regard to comments made by Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster. "I would like to believe that Mayor Dyster is a responsible, reasonable leader and would not allow hundreds of casino employees, tourists, diners or national performers to be at risk in Niagara Falls in our property. To suggest that fire protection would not be called in the event of a fire emergency is likely more of a grossly misguided public relations statement to place pressure on this sorely disputed situation. One, which we must reiterate, the state of New York could fix by paying the host cities the money they are owed for services to gaming while arbitration to settle the disagreement over the state's violation of our mutual gaming compact. Niagara Falls has struggled for decades to try to gain an economic foothold. Seneca Gaming Corp. has helped draw tourism to the American side. It would be a terrible shame if this kind of statement, sadly delivered on a day of national mourning, deterred people from coming to the Falls altogether. I hope that the Mayor will rethink such an ill-considered approach to public safety."
Dyster's growing frustration was evident Tuesday regarding the dispute, which he says is causing the Cataract City to teeter on the brink of financial ruin, and over which it is virtually powerless.
"They (the Seneca) have to step up and be responsible citizens of this community and right now they're creating a big crisis for everyone," Dyster said. "I find it very difficult to ask my firefighters to risk their lives to help make millions of dollars for a gaming corporation that's not paying its bills...yes, it's a very strong statement (but) there's some pretty dramatic things that are gonna happen here one way or another and again I have to make the decisions on behalf of the citizens of Niagara falls who are owed $58 to $60 million but also on behalf of my firefighters and their families."
Dyster made no mention of the fact that many Niagara Falls residents actually work or gamble at Seneca Niagara, or the potential that the lives of those residents could be at risk should an emergency arise with no subsequent response from the city's fire department.
As well, it may fly in the face of the oath they took, or indeed the very nature of firefighters not to respond, despite any executive order from Dyster.
Seneca Nation President Robert Porter did not return a call seeking comment, and a spokesman for the Seneca Nation said it would have no comment regarding Dyster's remarks, repeating only what they've suggested before-- that the state should make the city whole while the dispute remains in arbitration. The state has said continuously that it can't afford to pay out the tens of millions of dollars due Niagara falls, until and unless the Seneca turn over the money they've been withholding.