NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WKBW) — Auto technicians for the City of Niagara Falls are working overtime to keep an aging fleet of public safety vehicles on the road - a situation that is affecting the police & fire departments, DPW, and code enforcement.
Niagara Falls leaders are hoping a dispute between New York State and the Seneca Nation of Indians over casino revenue payments to host communities will soon be settled so cities like Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca can receive their share of the money.
The Seneca Nation stopped making payments after it felt that it fulfilled its obligation under the gaming compact with NYS, and no more payments were required.
New York State disagreed and the matter went to arbitration, but the dispute has dragged on for two years.
In early April 2019, an arbitration panel ruled the Seneca Nation owned New York State $255 million dollars and quarterly casino revenue payments needed to be restarted.
However, the Seneca Nation wanted the U.S. Department of the Interior to review the arbitration ruling first - a process that could take 45 days.
A spokesperson for the Seneca Nation told 7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly there has been no final determination made yet by the Department of the Interior.
While the dispute continues, the City of Niagara Falls is facing a severe financial situation where it could run out of money by July.
A shortage of money has forced the city to keep worn out public service vehicles on the road, long after they have exceeded their useful life.
"Many police cars have over 175,000 miles on them," said John Caso, Director of Niagara Falls Public Works.
City mechanics are now working overtime to rebuild engines and perform repairs to vehicles that operate with 'check engine' lights.
Some vehicles are covered with rusted-out holes.
Other vehicles, deemed un-repairable, are being stripped of parts to keep the fleet on the road.
"They better think about something because these cars aren't going to last too much longer," added John Caso.
If the casino revenue dispute is not settled, the city could look at tax increases or use bonds to pay for the expense.
So far, city officials have been reluctant to do either because of the impact on taxpayers dollars.
"Obviously, there is going to have to be some tough decisions made," said City Councilman Bill Kennedy II.
Ed Reilly takes a closer look at the state of the Niagara Falls public safety fleet in the attached clip.