By a margin of 4-1, the Niagara Falls City Council Monday night voted down a proposal that would have given a private company the franchise to install and operate parking meters in Niagara Falls.
Parking meters. The perennial battleground. Over the past 15 years mayors Galie, Elia, Anello and now Paul Dyster have wrestled with the thorny issue that other municipalities had taken care of when Harry Truman was still president.
Over that period, contracts have been awarded and rescinded. Meters have been installed and torn out and, in the end and as is typical for Niagara Falls, rather than generating revenue, parking meters have cost the taxpayers money here.
Councilman Glenn Choolokian, who is looking to unseat Dyster in the Democratic primary for mayor this fall, said he doesn't want to see the people of the city lose out again.
"It's like the garbage plan all over again," he said. "They ask the Council to vote on something but you ask a question about the specifics of what they're proposing and they don't have a clue."
The Dyster plan would have paid $258,950 to a Rochester based company called Ber-National Automation Inc. to install meters here, primarily in the downtown tourist district.
"Just the little research I've done shows that other cities just work out a percentage deal with the company rather than paying them up front," Choolokian said. "I don't see why that can't be done in Niagara Falls."
Dyster has used the same approach to provide "free" musical entertainment here. While cities like Buffalo, North Tonawanda and Lockport are paid by promoters to stage concerts, Dyster's approach is to pay the promoter using taxpayer dollars.
"It just looks like another problem to me," Choolokian said.
The lone Council vote favoring the parking plan came from Kristin Grandinetti, who invariably votes with the mayor.
In an unrelated matter, Council passed a resolution that would transfer $670,000 of city funds to NFC Development Corp., the city's lending arm. For years, charges of favoritism in handing out the small business grants and loans, along with a staggering default rate, have made NFC Development a controversial topic here.
"Everybody knows that, if you're on the right side politically, you'll get the big dollars," Choolokian said. "If you're not connected, you get very little or nothing."
Choolokian voted against the funding and Councilman Bob Anderson abstained, but Grandinetti, and Councilmen Charles Walker and Andrew Touma voted to support the Dyster proposal.