By Justin SondeL firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — The city of Niagara Falls has seen the end of four years of financial uncertainty.
New York state and the Seneca Nation of Indians have ended their dispute over exclusivity terms in the 2002 gaming compact between the two parties and Niagara Falls and the other host community cities — Buffalo and Salamanca — will see all of the money that has been withheld by the Senecas since the dispute began. Future casino cash payments are expected to be paid to the host communities as scheduled.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo flew to Niagara Falls Thursday afternoon to announce the negotiated settlement between the Senecas and the state.
Cuomo said the Senecas had a “legitimate disagreement” with the state, before thanking the Senecas for working with his office to complete the deal.
“Unnecessary hardships were endured by many parties,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo went on to apologize specifically to Mayor Paul Dyster and the city of Niagara Falls.
The city has had to cut services and has had its bond rating lowered by two rating agencies this year because of hardships brought on by the withheld funds.
Niagara Falls will receive $89 million, while Salamance will get $34.5 million and Buffalo will get $15.5 million — all of the 25 percent share of the local impact payments outlined in the original compact.
The state will receive about $408 million and the Senecas will retain $209 million in withheld revenues and resume making regular annual payments to the state, according to a release from the governor’s office.
“We’re sorry that you had to go through what you went through,” Cuomo said. “But, today you’re being made whole for the past and tomorrow’s a new day.”
The agreement with the Senecas was the third deal Cuomo has struck with an Indian nation in recent weeks to keep competition away from existing casinos in exchange for settling lingering disputes.
Barry Snyder, president of the Seneca Nation of Indians, joked about exchanges between he and Cuomo outlined in the press as the rhetoric ramped up in recent weeks.
Snyder, who called Cuomo a “bully” last week, said the governor should take that barb as a compliment.
Snyder described the deal as “equitable” and said that the state and the nation can now move forward as partners.
“While this is not a problem Governor Cuomo created, he acknowledged a very serious situation and has worked with the nation to solve the problem,” Snyder said.
Snyder said a lack of communication between the Senecas and the state led to the breakdown in relations between the two entities.
“Hopefully in the future we will sit down more regularly on issues we have, not only on the gaming compact, but on other issues we might have that we might rectify or at least be heard in the state office buildings up in Albany,” Snyder said.
Mayor Paul Dyster, who has maintained for months that the dispute would be resolved by the middle of this year, was beaming at the press conference.
Dyster, who has faced a series of challenges related to the halt in payments, said the negotiated settlement was a great relief for himself, but also for the residents of the Falls.
“This is one of the happiest days of my life and, I’m sure, for the city of Niagara Falls,” the mayor said.
Dyster said the city tried to remain neutral in the dispute and maintain relations with both the Senecas and state, who he described as “friends” of the city.
“It hurts us to see our friends fighting,” Dyster said. “So we tried to play whatever role we could to facilitate a negotiated settlement.”
State Senator George Maziarz, R-Newfane, traveled back from Albany with Cuomo for the press event.
He said state officials held true to their promise that host communities would not lose out on any of the money they were owed because of the dispute between the state and the Senecas.
“If the state violated the contract the state would pay the price,” Maziarz said.
Maziarz noted that the casino revenues have also benefitted community assets like the Niagara Falls School District and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.
“What that means to the city of Niagara Falls and the future of the city of Niagara Falls is so important,” he said.PAYOUTS Under Thursday's agreement between the state and Seneca Nation of Indians, payments will be made to: • NIAGARA FALLS: $89M • BUFFALO: $15.5M • SALAMANCA: $34.5M • NEW YORK: $408M Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257