By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — Councilman Sam Fruscione is questioning whether the use of Niagara Arts and Cultural Center funds to put on a fundraiser started by Mayor Paul Dyster and his wife, Rebecca, is improper.
The NACC has received $30,000 in bed tax funds for 11 years. Over the past three years, the center has spent almost $12,000 putting on the Art of Beer, an event the Dysters helped start as a fundraiser for the arts center in 2007, according to documents supplied to the councilman by the center.
Fruscione said use of bed tax funds to throw an event — which he characterized as “a boozy party” — created by the mayor is “very unethical.”
“If you’re the mayor and connected to an event like that you have to follow procedure,” Fruscione said.
Fruscione said Dyster knowingly avoided the proper channels for securing funding for his event all while pretending to be “the golden boy of Niagara Falls.”
“That’s definitely a highly questionable practice right there,” Fruscione said.
Fruscione said he and other taxpayers should not be “paying for beer” for the festival.
“I don’t think $4,500 of taxpayer money should be going to a beer festival,” he reiterated.
But, the money has never paid for beer and the organization has never spent more than $4,000 to host it.
Participating microbreweries donate beer in exchange for the publicity they get from being at the event. The money that the organization invests in the event goes toward things like collectors glasses given to patrons as part of the cost of admission, a license for the event from the New York State Liquor Authority, city vendor’s licenses and ice.
Paul Dyster was on the board of both the NACC and the Art of Beer before running for mayor. He left those posts before announcing his bid for office.
Dyster also rescinded his partnership in the business that Rebecca now runs by herself, Niagara Traditions Homebrew supply.
The mayor said that Fruscione’s characterization of the event as a beer swilling party is not accurate. Beer festivals require specific licensing that requires all proceeds to go to a nonprofit and limits the amount of beer that can be served in each glass, he said.
“It involves giving samples of beer. There’s a pour line that’s pretty tightly regulated,” Dyster said. “It’s something that craft breweries do in order to try to get exposure for their products.”
Documents supplied by Lou Townsend, the NACC’s director of finance, show that while the organization spent $11,748 over the last three years to host the event, it took in $49,944, making for a net gain of $37,926 for the arts center.
The center has operating costs that consistently exceed $400,000 and the Art of Beer — the center’s most profitable fundraising event — helps to pay for the upkeep and maintenance of the building, Townsend said.
Councilman Charles Walker said he doesn’t see an issue with the city giving money to the NACC, despite Dyster’s former involvement with and continuing financial support of the organization.
And as for the Art of Beer, he said he doesn’t see it as a waste of money if the organization is bringing in money.
“If they use $5,000 to take in $20,000 then they’re quadrupling their money,” Walker said. “It’s not a party, it’s a fundraiser.”
Rebecca Dyster said that her business loses money participating in Art of Beer and that she participates in it to support an institution that both she and her husband believe does a lot of good for the city.
She donates her time, the time of her employees and closes her store a few hours early to take part in the event, she said.
“I’m not only not making money, I’m spending money,” Rebecca Dyster said. “That’s not why we do it.”
Mug of Fruscione, Sam Sam Fruscione Questions fundraiser