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Bed Tax Dollars Feed Hard Rock, Others in Name of Tourism

By Mike Hudson

"Yachts for everyone." Even the Yacht Club gets leftover bed tax money
Can I have some bed tax leftovers too?

The Niagara Arts and Culture Center, the Hard Rock concert series, the Ontario Jazz Festival and Fourth of July fireworks display chewed up $235,000 of $317,153 available to the city this year in discretionary funding derived from the 15 percent bed tax. 

These and other things - a hodgepodge of allegedly vital tourism activities, ranging from Ron Cunningham’s celebration of Black History Month to a four-figure, taxpayer-funded donation mysteriously given last year for “Canadian fireworks” are what happens to what city officials call “left over bed tax” money, left over after the NTCC takes 80 percent, lion’s share. 
This year, the Hard Rock Café, a billion-dollar multinational corporation wholly owned by the Seminole Nation of Indians in Florida got about half of the left-over bed tax. 

As if taxpayers of modern day Niagara Falls didn’t already bear a disproportionate burden when it comes to making up for everything bad that ever happened to Native Americans since Columbus discovered America, the Indian-owned Hard Rock received $150,000 from the fund to host a series of lackluster performances by has-beens and never-beens such as Finger 11, Sloan, a rogue Guess Who, etc. 

The Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, otherwise known as the old school on Pine Avenue at Portage Road, is another pet project of Dyster, who conned the city into spending hundreds of thousands to put a new roof on the crumbling former high school, with a promise no further government subsidies would be needed.
The NACC took $30,000 a year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, for a total of $150,000. Over that period, what art of merit was produced by the artists who occupy the old building? 

And what has this to do with tourism – for which hotels pay their bed taxes and for which the money is supposed to be spent? 
By Niagara Falls custom and tradition, there seems to be no accountability on the part of those individuals and organizations who benefit from the largesse of Dyster and the City Council, no way for taxpayers to know what, for example, Ron Cunningham did with the $2,000 he received earlier this year to celebrate February, which is Black History Month. 

How does one celebrate Black History Month? With 29 days this past February, Cunningham had over $68 a day to spend, more than enough to buy lunch for eight or 10 historians every afternoon for the entire month. 

What he did with the money is pretty much a state secret, as no publicity or announcement for any sort of celebration associated with Black History Month appeared in this newspaper, the Niagara Gazette or the Buffalo News this past February. 

For the record, no money was given to the Irish for St. Patrick’s Day, the Italians for Columbus Day, the Mexicans for Cinco de Mayo or the Poles for Dyngus Day. A likely explanation lies in the fact that Cunningham has directed energy over the years into becoming a spokesman and vote getter for the African-American community. 

With the Seneca Nation of Indians withholding their promised payments, the city is in danger of default. With a population with a per capita income of around $18,000 annually, do Dyster and the City Council really need to be dumping $317,153 this year on a hodgepodge of allegedly “tourism” related activities? Does the Main Street Business Festival ($2,500 this year), the Ontario Street Jazz Festival ($30,200) or the United Way Festival of Lights ($30,000) really generate enough tourism dollars to justify the expense? Do they generate any tourism dollars at all? No one in Niagara Falls city government seems to have any idea. No studies have been made. No accounting done. The money is paid, year after year, because it is there.
Funding, totaling $1.2 million since 2008 could have been spent on essential city services or used to provide a small tax break for beleaguered Niagara Falls property owners. 

Instead it is used to feed the egos of an out-of-control mayor and a go-along City Council. Still you gotta admit it must be fun. How would you like to be able to give people money- money that is not yours? But get credit for giving it away? Imagine the joy of being able to give out thousands of dollars to all kinds of people that can vote for you. 
How happy a day that must be. 



Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug 14 , 2012