by Terry Duffy
The Lewiston Town Board opened Monday's session amid good feelings with commendations for Lewiston Police Officer Gregory T. Schuey, who marked his final day of service with LPD Sept. 7 at the Lewiston Kiwanis Peach Festival in Academy Park.
"As professional as by the book," commented Town Supervisor Dennis Brochey as he read off a board resolution recognizing Schuey's lengthy association with the town that dates back to 1981.
"It's an honor to serve the Town of Lewiston," the retired officer said to rounds of applause by family and friends at Town Hall.
Those good feelings were soon to wane however. What followed was significant discussion over the next several hours on a host of contentious issues, including Artpark funding and extended discussions on the budget, namely highway (see related story).
"I didn't get home that night till well after midnight," said Town Finance Officer Paul Kloosterman later in the week.
It was one of those nights at Town Hall.
When it was all said and done the Town Board ultimately went on to adopt the 2015 budget of $16.037 million. It keeps finances in check with no new town tax. But it does bring some changes.
For the time being, it's Artpark. At Monday's session, the town announced it would be rescinding the $100,000 annual Modern tipping fee payment to Artpark, at least for now. The reason? Artpark & Company's opting to pull out of providing $40,000 to the town for Lewiston police crowd and traffic control services on village streets. "It's something we did not count on," Brochey said of the Artpark move.
Brochey said that night that Lewiston could consider some type of town tax - he even mentioned 1.56 percent (staying within the 2 percent) or $36,000 - to absorb the cut.
That didn't happen.
But the mere mention of the town tax idea triggered a slew of comments.
Town Councilman Ron Winkley, a former Artpark & Company board member, argued that Artpark & Company is a non-profit, just as Lewiston Kiwanis or the Lewiston Jazz Festival. "Artpark is not forced to pay for this," Winkley said. "Send them a bill."
Town Councilman Al Bax responded that Kiwanis does in fact pay for police duties at the Peach Festival. He went on to suggest the town take a common approach of addressing fees for all non-profits (i.e. Artpark, Lewiston Jazz, Lewiston Council on the Arts, Lewiston Garden Club, etc.) when they hold events that require town-funded forces, i.e., police, fire, highway, etc.
"The town should consider a consolidated policy of charging when they hold an event," Bax said.
Winkley responded that the town instead just "send them a bill," and added that perhaps other options be considered, such as having less Lewiston police working or greater utilizing of county forces, i.e., the Niagara County Sheriffs.
Problem is, that would throw greater cost to Niagara County, and, in turn, county taxpayers, including Lewiston residents, as Artpark & Company "does not provide any funding whatsoever" for Niagara County Sheriff's Office patrols for Tuesday or Wednesday concerts, according to NCSO Undersheriff Michael Filicetti.
"Look, the people of Lewiston are fed up with maintaining police for Artpark," countered Brochey.
What followed was, at times, heated discussion among the board members.
Bax said that given the latest turn of events, namely the tipping fee being pulled that perhaps Artpark "needs to address their business model" to adapt to changes.
"Artpark is an enterprise, unlike Kiwanis or the Jazz Fest," Bax said. He went on to argue for constructive conversation between the town and Artpark & Company "where's there's a mutual benefit."
"We are trying to be a willing partner," said Bax. "If we don't pay them the $100,000 they'll lose. It's not what we want - (but) it's frustrating on their answers. We need to be reasonable."
Bax then offered the option of a 40-cent per ticket surcharge for Tuesday and Wednesday concerts.
Brochey and Winkley both suggested that the Artpark board wouldn't be keen to the idea as it could impact the type and quality of productions that it bids for.
Kloosterman suggested a full joint meeting with the Artpark & Company board and the Lewiston Town Board needs to be pursued.
"We're threatened with a town tax," Bax said. "It's our fiscal reality. We need to have a public meeting."
Brochey responded, "Look, it's not a done deal yet."
The discussions ended with Town Attorney Mark Davis calling for some type of contract structure to be established between the town and Artpark to address police costs along with the tipping fees. It went on to be approved on a resolution by Councilman Bill Conrad.
For the time being, the Modern tipping fees to Artpark & Company remain off the table. And no updates have come to be as to any joint meeting between Lewiston and Artpark.
John Camp, chairman of the Artpark & Company board, did respond this week to Brochey's claim of Artpark refusing to pay Lewiston police costs, saying it was "inaccurate."
"We have not officially taken this position," Camp said.
Instead Camp reiterated Artpark's most recent stand on this issue, saying it remains under consideration.
"Artpark must re-evaluate its ability to pay for Lewiston police traffic control as this was agreed in 2014 with the understanding that the tipping fees would continue to be provided to fund family programming," said Camp.
More on this as news develops.