Article Contributed by
Chautauqua County Office of the County Executive
“New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo administration’s mishandling of the situation with the Seneca Nation of Indians can sadly now be measured in lives. Congressman Tom Reed has brought to light how the City of Salamanca’s understaffed emergency services, which was caused by budget shortfalls as a result of the Governor withholding their payments, has led to a tragic situation where an EMS call could not be properly responded to which resulted in the death of a heart attack victim.
An article published in The Buffalo News on September 4, 2019 quotes Salamanca Fire Chief Nick Bocharski as saying, ‘Governor, this falls directly in your lap.’
The City of Salamanca is just one of many municipalities, including Chautauqua County, which is suffering serious budget shortfalls from the unpaid millions of dollars owed by the state. The Cuomo administration recently chose to pay the city of Niagara Falls for the money owed through the compact agreement but not the rest of the municipalities.
The response from the Cuomo administration, by Budget Director Robert Mujica, to justify the state’s withholding of money was, ‘Unlike officials in Niagara Falls, Salamanca leaders did not directly ask for help in covering the budget hole…They have to call us and tell us what their needs are.’
However, according to Salamanca Mayor Mike Smith, they did request help. But more importantly they should not need to ask for help. This money is owed to Salamanca, and all other municipalities, by the state and was approved in the state budget.
The poorly drafted agreement that was negotiated and signed by the state led to lawsuits disputing the Seneca Nation’s obligation to pay the state after 2016. That dispute does not relieve the state of fulfilling its obligations to the municipalities.
Of course, the situation has only been made worse by Governor Cuomo’s ongoing political battles with the Senecas on everything from attempting to tax the nation, in violation of federal treaties, to allowing state roads on Seneca territory to fall into dangerous disrepair, including the deplorable conditions on the Thruway here in the Chautauqua County area.
The state is in arrears to Chautauqua County to the tune of over $2.2 million as of today and that will increase to about $3 million if nothing is done in the coming year. These debts are heavy burdens for the largely rural areas that the Governor is choosing not to pay. Meanwhile, the state continues to find money for highly questionable programs including an estimated $27 million per year to give free college tuition to illegal immigrants.
Anyone who has been in business knows that you still need to meet your obligations even when those who owe you money haven’t paid you. Your employees should not have to beg for the money owed to them. This ridiculous response by Mr. Mujica is suggesting that we beg the state to pay its debts. It’s a very poor excuse for not stepping up and doing the right thing.”
Borrello is Chautauqua County Executive and a member of the Native American Affairs & Gaming Standing Committee for the New York State Association of Counties.