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Council Majority Set to Cancel NTCC

Bed taxes could be lowered or eliminated

By Frank Parlato

Sam Fruscione has had enough!
John Percy (above) represents mainly two and three-star hotels and motels like the Bit-O-Paris (below) on Niagara Falls Blvd.

The Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation (NTCC) contract with the city will not be renewed when it expires at the end of April, according to a majority on the Niagara Falls City Council.

The council has final say since it approves all contracts with the city.

“They are done in April,” said Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian. “We are done with the contract,” adding that NTCC, with its large salaries, large expense accounts, and lack of transparency, does not provide any demonstrable benefit to the city.

“It is another entity that lives off the taxpayers of Niagara Falls,” Choolokian said.

When contacted by the Reporter, Council Member Sam Fruscione said, “Yes, we will terminate” their agreement. Fruscione added that there is a possibility the council might consider an improved agreement with NTCC, after a “thorough housecleaning,” if they can “ensure they will do things properly,” and “only after the council consults with the tourism industry.”

NTCC gets 80 percent of the hotel or bed taxes paid by Niagara Falls’ hotels, about a million dollars per year. From 2004 to 2011, the NTCC has received $8,845,528 in bed tax money. They also received another $5,354,280 in casino revenue, making a total of $14,199,808.

By contract, NTCC had to demonstrate that they bring the city a return on investment of $15 for every $1 the city gives them.
The money has been paid with virtually no questions asked and very few answers given.

As a private corporation, NTCC, led by its president, John Percy, has long maintained that it does not have to reveal what they do with taxpayer money but merely file a report showing how much money they bring into the city as a result of their efforts.
Choolokian said this is unacceptable, and that if ever this secretive organization were required to reveal what they did with the money, it would show that they accomplished little to nothing.

“How much is enough? How long is enough?” Choolokian asked. “We are starting to cancel a lot of taxpayer funded waste. The City of Niagara Falls’ money can’t keep on supporting all these different groups. This private corporation thinks it is entitled to this money forever. There is no benefit to the city of Niagara Falls… I don’t believe that the NTCC helps the majority of hotels, or the tourist industry or Niagara Falls.”

Choolokian said the council will likely table the renewal of the contract which will sever the contract payments. “Then we will figure out what we are going to do next and how we are going to do it.”

Choolokian did not rule out the idea that hotels in the city could form an association and market their own products with the million dollars they save per year in bed taxes.

Nor did Choolokian rule out reducing or eliminating the bed tax, which would allow hotels in Niagara Falls to charge their guests 5 percent less on a room.

The city collects an average $4.75 in bed taxes for an estimated average hotel room in Niagara Falls of $95, with NTCC getting $3.80 of that, or 80 percent.

One city hall source, familiar with NTCC, said that if Niagara Falls announced the ending of hotel taxes, “it would be a national news story.

“What it would say about Niagara Falls is that they are confident in their brand. It speaks for itself. People are coming to Niagara Falls because it is Niagara Falls, not because of the NTCC,” the source said.

The third council member on the five-person council to say he plans to support terminating the contract with NTCC is Robert Anderson, 71, consistently the largest vote getter in any election that he cares to lend his name to.

An Air Force veteran, Anderson waxed on the uselessness of NTCC: “After traveling around the world for 22 years, full time, for the United States of America, and living in this city, in the missile squadron base, and the Mohawks, I saw the decline of this city. There were once 40 factories, 100,000 people. And, as I traveled the world – I speak five languages – I found people from all over the countries setting out to travel here. They could not even pronounce it. “Nicaragawa Falls.” I said ‘What did you say?’ ‘Nicaiarga Falls.’ ‘Yes.’ They knew it was in New York State. Once they got to New York, they asked directions.

“When we were prosperous, we had no NTCC flying all over the world, spending millions of dollars. For what? To advertise Niagara Falls? What a waste of money.”

If the past is any indicator, this majority on the council means business.

These are the three men who eliminated USA Niagara, a patronage rich, so-called State economic development agency, that was supposed to turn downtown Niagara Falls into another Times Square. The majority refused to renew their contract when it expired last year. The move saved the city $3.1 million this year and was the main budget cut that they employed to avoid an eight-percent tax increase proposed by Mayor Paul Dyster.



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

Jan 29 , 2013