Salamanca, NY –( release ) In a release obtained by Eyewitness News, Salamanca Mayor Jeffrey L. Pond issued layoff notices to 49 City staff today, citing the need to control expenses in the wake of the ongoing dispute between New York State and the Seneca Nation of Indians.
“As a host community of a Seneca Nation casino, the City provides essential services using the revenues generated from the Gaming Compact agreement. The revenues we planned for in our budget will not materialize in the foreseeable future, and the City cannot afford to provide services to the extent that we have been without it,” stated Mayor Pond.
He continued, “We are facing a fiscal crisis unlike any other this City has experienced, and as a result, we’ve been forced to make some very difficult decisions. These cuts in personnel represent 40% of the workforce, and there will likely be more. Every City department is affected, and this action will severely impact the level of services that the City provides to its residents.”
“This layoff action involves 49 people that have faithfully served this community for many years,” said the Mayor. “These staff cuts will mean fewer firemen and police officers on the streets; it will mean reduced hours of operations at the Library and Youth Center; it will drastically reduce our ability to provide the services that the community relies on,” said the Mayor.
Mayor Pond issued a direct call for action from New York State and the Seneca Nation of Indians. “The Seneca Nation contends that New York State has violated the Casino Gaming Compact, and is withholding exclusivity fees as a result. The state shares 25% of that exclusivity fee with the local host governments. I implore the leadership of both entities to negotiate and come to the table immediately because this stalemate is having disastrous effects on this City’s operations,” stated Mayor Pond.
“Call volume in the both the Police Department and Fire Department has nearly doubled since the 2004 opening of the Seneca Allegany Casino. Since that time, we’ve utilized Gaming Compact revenues to
adequately staff these public safety agencies, and without this funding these departments will revert to staffing levels at or below what they were when the casino opened,” noted the Mayor.
“This will likely increase call response times and seconds count and make all the difference when it comes to the protection of people and property. Additionally, the non-emergency services that each department provides would be impacted or even eliminated.”
Salamanca Fire Chief Nicholas F. Bocharski Jr. added, “The impact to the Salamanca Fire Department will be felt across Salamanca, Jimersontown and neighboring communities with lengthy delays in ambulance and fire response. This community deserves to have a quick, efficient and ample response when they pick up the phone and dial 911.”
City Police Chief Troy Westfall echoed these comments, “The impact to the people in the Salamanca community through the reduction in emergency services could have devastating consequences to those in need. At the present time, police and fire services response times are measured by minutes and every minute counts. When a crisis situation occurs, any addition to response time is too long.”
“Over 10,000 times this calendar year, local kids have walked through the doors of the Youth Center,” said Director Sandi Brundage. She continued, “We’re here for after school and evening hours, and on the weekend. Reducing the hours that the doors are open, also reduces the opportunity for a safe, free, and healthy alternative for our young people.”
“We’ve reviewed and analyzed the City’s operational structure. Our layoff plan was developed based on our best effort to maintain services, while complying with Civil Service laws and union contract terms. Positions funded with direct impact monies are obviously impacted, but other positions were impacted as well, due to the large portion of the Gaming Compact revenues that reimburse the City for tax immune parcels,” stated Mayor Pond.
“The reality is that 50% of the City’s annual budget is based on Compact revenues, which makes this layoff plan far reaching and necessary,” he continued.
“We needed to base our response plan on several unknowns, the most significant is that we do not know how long this stalemate will last,” said Mayor Pond. He continued, “And after careful review and due diligence with our contacts within NYS and the SNI, we needed to make some difficult decisions based on the assumption that Compact revenue will not materialize in the foreseeable future.” “Consequently,
cutting staff and services at this level and at this time will help the City maintain most, albeit limited, operations for a longer period of time,” said the Mayor.
In addition to the layoffs, the City has cut all programs, projects and services funded with Economic Development funds (also Compact funded). This includes the construction management and inspection portion of the contract for the State Park Avenue reconstruction project, the contract for Main Street façade programs, and the community grants program that funds the essential services of the Salamanca Area Chamber of Commerce, the Salamanca Area Historical Society, and the Salamanca Rail Museum.
“As I said, this fiscal crisis will affect and impact not only the City operations, but residents and community agencies alike, as well as, any opportunity for increasing the City’s tax base through future growth and our ongoing economic development initiatives” said Mayor Pond.
“The State Park Avenue Area Economic Development Initiative is intended to create jobs (1,500+), increase tourism, and create new tax revenue to stimulate the local economy”, stated City Director of Planning David Paoletta.
“A very productive meeting was held at City Hall on August 31st with 15 federal, state and local agencies at the table to develop a co-funding strategy for the project. Victor Vasquez, Deputy Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, came from Washington, D.C. for the meeting and was very enthusiastic about the project and the potential for funding”. “Unfortunately”, Paoletta said, “With the loss of potential matching funds from casino revenue and the elimination of the positions that administer grant funding and would guide this project to fruition, the potentially significant economic benefits of the project to the City of Salamanca and surrounding area will never be realized”.
Responding to recent criticism by Salamanca Alderman Ronald Ball the Mayor stated, “It truly is unfortunate, that at a time like this, Mr. Ball chose an adversarial approach. His accusations of secret meetings are completely false. As the Mayor of this City, it is my job to manage and oversee the day to day operations.
As such, I stand behind the fact that I have consulted with my department heads and the city leadership team on impacts to the services we provide. And as we came together with a plan, it was then that we met with the Common Council, including Mr. Ball, in an executive session of our regular meeting last week.” “Mr. Ball was given every opportunity at the meeting to comment on the situation, but chose not to. Instead, he provided inflammatory and false information to the media”. Mayor Pond continued, “We are making the best of an impossible situation. There are no easy answers, and I was under the impression that Council member Ball was ready to stand with our team as we manage this together.
Unfortunately, Mr. Ball has chosen to make this about politics and propaganda rather than being part of the solution.”
“The bottom line is that the proposed layoffs and subsequent decreased services outlined above are a necessary measure in a crucial time that will ultimately determine the future of the City of Salamanca. I have also been in contact with our State and Federal representatives to apprise them of the City’s current situation and to ask for any assistance that they may be able to provide,” stated Mayor Pond.
Eyewitness News will continue to follow this story, with more reaction from the Seneca Nation.