by Terry Duffy
The Town of Lewiston-Artpark funding stalemate continues.
Wednesday, Town of Lewiston Supervisor Dennis Brochey, Finance Officer Paul Kloosterman and Councilman Bill Conrad met with the Artpark & Company board at the Niagara Falls Country Club. Their purpose was to present Lewiston's financial case to the Artpark board in hopes of reaching a better mutual understanding and relief, in the form of assistance on both sides.
In a nutshell, the meeting did produce a better understanding of Lewiston's plight on the part of Artpark, but there's nothing concrete as of yet between the two parties in resolving the differences.
As Lewiston residents are only too well aware, the town-Artpark loggerhead has been simmering for some time.
Since the mid-1990s, Lewiston has provided Artpark a portion of its Modern Disposal tipping fees received, to be directed for Artpark family entertainment. That assistance relationship existed with no problem over the years in the town's eyes. That is until Artpark's Tuesday and Wednesday concerts began to grow in immense popularity from 2006 onward, and Lewiston Police, as the lead responding agency to handle the ever-increasing crowds and traffic control on village streets, assumed a far greater role. And LPD did so with no funding assistance for staffing and other associated costs from Artpark. That changed last year, when, responding to growing frustrations from LPD and, in turn, the town, Artpark & Company did agree to provide $40,000 to cover Lewiston police costs.
But Brochey, still facing budget shortfalls with the town's just-completed 2015 budget, made the drastic move recently to completely remove the Modern tipping fees for Artpark and dedicate it to the town's general fund. For 2015, that translates into a potential $110,000 loss to Artpark for family programming. Brochey also asked Artpark to continue its $40,000 commitment for Lewiston Police services, a request Artpark thus far has hedged on.
In his remarks before the Artpark board Wednesday, Brochey spoke at length on the town's growing financial difficulties that he inherited from the past administration and the significant steps he has been forced to take since January to address them. Included thus far have been employee consolidations, 2015 budget funding cuts totaling $1.3 million, including the Modern tipping fee funding cut to Artpark, moves to relieve the town from maintaining Joseph Davis State Park, talks on getting a better handle on controlling town employee salaries and benefits, and increased discussions with agencies holding tax-exempt properties such as the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission and the New York Power Authority, geared to achieve far greater forms of financial relief for the town.
Despite that, Brochey said the town is still not out of the financial hole. He said the town is facing a funding shortfall of some $400,000 "just to break even," and raised a potential gap of up to $700,000 for 2015 and beyond.
"So far, all we have done is extended a possible future serious situation," Brochey said. "Every year the costs go up, including town employee wages. Much more work is needed to be done, or possible layoffs are destined in the near future. Cooperation from all town departments and unions are needed to help avoid this."
In remarks following the Wednesday session, Artpark Chairman John Camp said Artpark & Company, indeed, is sympathetic to the town's plight and has not ruled out contributing towards police funding. But he also said that Artpark remains committed to its primary mission of family programming, and despite the more than $100,000 loss in town Modern tipping fees, it would do its best to sustain that.
"It is most regrettable that the Town of Lewiston is redirecting the tipping fees earmarked for Artpark family programming to address their budget deficit," Camp said. He said the Artpark board and staff are still evaluating how it will handle the loss.
"Artpark will make best efforts to maintain the level of family programming at 2014 levels," Camp said, adding, "plans to expand family programming, consistent with our mission statement and strategic vision, will now be put on hold."
Of the projected $110,000 cut for 2015, Camp called it "a significant percentage of our family programming budget."
But Camp, like Brochey, maintains hope a compromise can ultimately be reached as talks continue between the two.
"As a not-for-profit organization with a mission to serve the WNY community, we share the same challenges as the Town of Lewiston in balancing our budget for the coming year," Camp said.
Of the police funding, he added, "Artpark is unable to commit to this request at this time, but we are very interested in continuing a collaborative dialog with the town and follow up on a number of ideas expressed at the meeting, including optimizing police coverage in the most cost effective manner."
Brochey expressed the same sentiment. "My feeling was that there was some understanding, and maybe we are getting close to some sort of agreement," he said.
"If this meeting turns successful at all it could mean an addition of $40,000 for our town police, $14,000 for the Niagara County Sheriff's Department and $3,000 for the Village of Lewiston," Brochey added, sounding hopeful.
Expanding on this, Brochey commented, "After I gave my speech and answered some questions, I felt that some of them understood that I have a job to do for the people of Lewiston, much like they have a job to do for those attending Artpark. I like George Osborne and respect what he has done to bring things around.
"The Town of Lewiston was there for years when they were suffering but stood by them. Things aren't that good for Lewiston and the Artpark tipping fees really should have stopped years ago. Lewiston will lose another $700,000 again this year. We just can't afford to give away what we really don't have, and that's any extra money.
"I'm still hoping for a phone call from them where possibly we can work things out, maybe with Greenway funds rather with tipping fees."