Direct Negotiation with the Seneca Nation

Guest view published in the Niagara Gazette on November 17, 2018

I write this guest view as a candidate for mayor of the City of Niagara Falls in 2019 and a lifelong citizen. Simply put, we need to start directly negotiating with the Seneca Nation for our share of the slot revenue generated at the Seneca Niagara Casino. 

I am not making a political statement. I am not starting an argument. This situation has nothing to do with the people who work at the casino, many of whom are our neighbors. I am not attacking or placing blame only on New York State either. The original agreement predates any of our current elected officials, at any level. No matter what your view is on this issue, I hope that you will read until the end. This is a call to common sense problem solving that could benefit all involved parties.  

The city is the only entity without a negotiating position on this issue, but we are most harmed by the dispute. The lack of annual revenue impacts our budget, bond rating, tax rates/fees and levels of service. It makes us look foolish in the media and has created arguments in the community about smaller dollar amounts as arbitration between the state and the Seneca Nation looms in the distance. 

Both New York State and the Seneca Nation benefit from a Niagara Falls with a strong financial position and brand. Real compromise, in our daily lives or for a multi-million dollar agreement, starts with putting results before ego. Here is a plan of action: 1. Negotiate an annual dollar amount, paid directly to the City of Niagara Falls, that would make us whole from the loss of taxable revenue and strain on city infrastructure and services. 2. Negotiate an agreement length that is clear and will not change suddenly. 3. Create an advisory board that includes the city, state and Seneca Nation that will vote to make decisions for a portion of those funds. Our New York State elected officials and leaders elected by the Seneca Nation would all have a voice and a role in financial accountability. Meetings would transparent and open to the public. The City Council would have another opportunity to approve all expenditures per the city charter, providing another check on spending.           

Waiting and hoping are not strategies. The City of Niagara Falls has to be in control of its own future. New York State can understand this, as it does not always agree with the federal government. In 2018, New York State has been in legal disagreements with the federal government about tax deduction policy, consumer protection, disaster relief, traffic signage and other issues. Disagreement does not equal betrayal, especially among public servants. All we are seeking is a fare deal that gives us the opportunity to address our own problems and serve our residents.  

If elected mayor, creating this compromise will be a day one priority. Thanks for reading. 

Seth Piccirillo