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Council Cuts NACC Funding in Face of City Budget Woes

By Tony Farina

Everybody wants the taxpayers to pay for their own pet projects.
Former Mayor Vince Anello and Block Club leader Roger Spurback were in the audience.
Mayor Paul Dyster also attended and sat with the audience.

The Niagara Falls budget crisis claimed another casualty Monday night as city lawmakers cut the $30,000 appropriation for this year to the Niagara Arts & Cultural Center by a vote of 3 to 2 after hearing speaker after speaker urge them to continue the funding.

“We have given the NACC $825,000 since 2003 and with things the way they are right now, we just can’t afford to keep doing it,” said Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian who along with lawmakers Sam Fruscione and Bob Anderson voted against giving the bed tax money to the nonprofit center.

Choolokian, who along with Fruscione and Anderson, took an axe to Mayor Paul Dyster’s proposed “disaster budget” last December that saved homeowners (8.3%) and businesses (5%) a big tax hit, said with so many challenges still facing the city, it is time to curtail spending until more is known about the future.

“We still don’t know if we’re ever going to get the $60 million we are owed for the last three years under the gaming compact,” Choolokian said, referencing the still unresolved arbitration between the state and the Senecas that has put Niagara Falls in a precarious fiscal position.

Council members Kristen Grandinetti and Charles Walker voted to continue funding the NACC, with Walker saying it was time to leverage dollars for maximum effect, saying that it would cost $30,000 to cut the grass and shovel the snow at the NACC if there was no one doing it.

The vote came after a string of speakers in the jammed council chambers urged lawmakers to continue to support the NACC, calling it a treasure and an icon that hundreds of artists, students, and craftsmen call home, nurturing a cultural and community fabric that is vital to the city’s future.

An estimated crowd of 250 people attended Monday’s session, many of them to call on lawmakers to continue to provide the bed tax money to the NACC. Seated in the crowd was Mayor Dyster who had continued to push for the $30,000 appropriation to the NACC despite the council’s reservations.

“The mayor never contacted us to talk about it,” said Councilmember Anderson. “He just wanted to go his own way on this, and that was it.” Fruscione and Choolokian agreed with Anderson that Dyster never approached them about a possible compromise on the funding request.

The NACC has 70 tenants in the old Niagara Falls High School building, and has a small paid staff of six, with a total payroll of $106,000. They are largely supported by donations and serviced by volunteers.

One of the strongest supporters among the speakers Monday night was resident artist George Wolfe of Buffalo, who called the NACC “a multi-faceted jewel,” saying it would be foolish to not support something that does so much good for the City of Niagara Falls.

Despite the negative vote Monday, NACC officials say they will push on and plan a “$30,000 in 30 days” fund-raising drive, according to Kelly Lang Buckley, the program director for the center.

Executive Director Bob Drozdowski said the NACC will look to community support to offset the loss of the city money, and he said he hopes the large turnout on Monday night will translate into strong support for the fund-raising efforts that are planned to keep the NACC going.

The controversial Art of Beer fund-raiser, headed by Mayor Dyster’s wife which is normally funded by part of the money the NACC gets every year from the city, is still scheduled for Feb. 22, according to Drozdowski, and advance ticket sales have been strong.

In other action Monday, the council approved $2,500 for the Block Club Council which had been set to receive $10,000, an amount the council had initially rejected in their budget, but their action had been vetoed by the mayor. Monday’s 5 – 0 vote overrode that veto.

Block Club Council President Roger Spurback and Treasurer Norma Higgs had urged the council to approve the full amount. Choolokian said after Monday’s votes that everyone has to start being creative in the face of the city’s uncertain budget future.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Feb 05 , 2013