Try calling Community Development; You might as well call the White House

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By Mike Hudson

When you try to call Niagara Falls Community Development, you are answered by a robot, who proceeds to give you a number of “options.” Option one is to go to a directory of Community Development staffers, but if you go to it you are instead hooked up to a voicemail demanding to know who you are and exactly what you want.

Try it yourself. The number is (716) 286-8800.

The other way to contact Community Development is to fill out a form they have on their website.

“Do you have questions or need help with something that you couldn’t find on our website?  We’re here to help!  Fill out the contact form below and we will get you in touch with the right person,” it says.

Again, the form provided wants to know exactly who you are and what you want. This high level of security might be warranted in a city of a million or more, but in a small town with a population of less than 50,000 it is nothing short of ridiculous.

Still, the wall of security Mayor Paul Dyster and his cronies have erected between themselves and the taxpayers may go a long way toward explaining why Community Development Director Seth Piccirillo’s well laid plan to bring “recent college graduates” to Niagara Falls by actually paying them to live here have gone so terribly awry.

Just this week, the Niagara Falls Reporter attempted to contact Piccirillo, to find out how that much ballyhooed program was working out for the city. By phone and by contact form, this newspaper posed a simple question; In the five years since the program was launched, exactly how many suckers, er, “recent college graduates” have taken the three-year free rent bait?

When the program was launched, in June 2012, Piccirillo was seen as a golden child, one of Dyster’s bright boys who might rise to the position of mayor himself one day.

The concept of paying people to live here was so bold, so revolutionary, that it attracted national media attention. Young Seth’s genius was trumpeted in venues as diverse as ABC’s Good Morning America, National Public Radio and the Huffington Post.

The national media quite correctly pointed out that, as the city’s population dwindled to fewer than 50,000, it would lose millions in state and federal grant money, and that Piccirillo’s brilliant plan, along with Dyster’s courting of registered sex offenders from across the nation, might just save the day by keeping the population at a respectable level.

But alas, such was not the case.

While there are now 187 registered sex offenders living in the city now, the highest number per capita in the entire state of New York, Piccirillo’s plan has proven a resounding flop.

The national media he basked in five years ago has disappeared now, and he doesn’t want to talk about it, but in the first two years that the program was operational it had attracted exactly seven losers and drifters who agreed to stay here for the $3,500 annual stipend.

Undoubtedly that number would be higher, but a simple phone call to a relatively minor league department at City Hall has taken on all the ramifications of calling the White House or the Kremlin.

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