By Mark Scheer
City lawmakers on Monday agreed to restore funding for several area cultural and community organizations, including the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center which lost $30,000 in bed tax revenue last year as a result of council belt-tightening efforts.
With little discussion and no disagreement, all five lawmakers voted Monday evening to allow Mayor Paul Dyster's administration to enter into funding agreements with the NACC and other local non-profit organizations in 2014. The only non-yes vote came from newly elected Chairman Charles Walker who abstained on the vote for a proposed $27,500 funding agreement with the Niagara Community Action Program, Inc., a group that he had recently joined as a board member.
As a result of Monday's vote, the NACC will receive $30,000 in bed tax revenue this year. In addition, the city will provide $2,500 to the Niagara Military Affairs Council, $10,000 in tourism fund balance to the Niagara Beautification Commission and another $10,000 to the Niagara Falls Block Club Council.
Walker said he believes all of the organizations in question add to the quality of life in Niagara Falls either by providing cultural and educational offerings such as those found at the NACC or assisting the city in cleanup efforts as is the case with the NBC and the block club council.
"I think it's important that the city invest in itself," Walker said.
Council members Glenn Choolokian and Robert Anderson Jr., two of three lawmakers who supported cuts to the NACC and other non-profits last year, voted in favor of all five funding deals.
Anderson indicated that while he may have voted to trim spending for the groups under more trying financial circumstances a year ago, he never stopped supporting the groups themselves.
"I support every one of them physically," Anderson said.
After the meeting, Choolokian also said he took the action he did last year in large part due to the pressing financial concerns that were facing the city at the time. When the cuts to the nonprofits were made, Choolokian noted that the city was still without its casino cash and facing significant budgetary challenges.
"I think we have to look at it year to year, look at the situation and what our future is," he said.
NACC officials, including board President Katherine Johnson and Director Kathie Kudela, addressed lawmakers before Monday's vote, encouraging them to restore bed tax revenue for their organization in 2014. While acknowledging that the cultural and community center, located inside the old Niagara Falls High School on Pine Avenue, was able to recoup much of the funding in lost in 2013 through private fundraising efforts, they indicated that the job presented a significant challenge and took away from accomplishing other tasks within the organization.
Kudela argued that the NACC, which has a staff of six employees, not only provides a venue for various arts and cultural performances, but oversees maintenance of the historically significant high school building as well as the entire block it covers at the corner of Pine Avenue and Portage Road.
"We have saved and restored what many people consider a landmark building," Kudela said.
In other matters, the council:
• Designated the Niagara Gazette as the city's official newspaper.
• Voted unanimously to adopt an investment policy for the city as required under state law.