Niagara Falls Council Members Glenn Choolokian, Robert Anderson and Sam Fruscione are planning to direct city funds to the Niagara Falls Police Department to support new – as well as “old fashioned” - policing initiatives for 2013. And they plan to use bed tax money to do it.
“If our streets aren’t safe, then none of us are safe, including the tourists," said three-term lawmaker Anderson. “It’s time to move forward with added financial support for more policing in Niagara Falls.”
Niagara Falls Police Chief Bryan DalPorto, appointed to the top-cop position in January, has been developing a community policing program that will put officers on the sidewalks by foot patrol, and on the streets via patrol car. More money is needed.
“Chief DalPorto impressed us as a take-charge leader, a combination of old school and a student of creative new policing techniques,” Choolokian said, as he told the Reporter in an exclusive interview of the council majority’s plans to appropriate $50,000 of council contingency funds, along with $25,000 of bed tax revenue, for the public safety measures.
The funds will put more officers on the streets, in cars and on bicycle patrol during the 2013 tourist season.
“Our tourism district, as well as our neighborhoods, are logical places to target for new crime fighting programs,” said Fruscione. “It only makes sense that our city does all it can to make visitors feel safe when they spend time with us.”
The use of bed tax money is somewhat of a novel idea.
The council – which has slashed what it considers wasteful spending and staved off the proposed 2013 tax increases of Mayor Paul Dyster - has already announced its plans to cancel the contract with the Niagara Tourism and Convention Center (NTCC) which currently receives 80 percent of the bed tax money. Critics say the private corporation does little, other than pay themselves executive salaries, travel around the world and take credit for visitation that they had nothing to with. There problems are exacerbated by the fact that the NTCC president John Percy has steadfastly refused to disclose how the NTCC spent more than $14 million in public money during the last few years.
Since 2008, the city has used the bed tax money not given to the NTCC to reward campaign supporters, support local projects and nonprofit groups that have little to do with tourism. Bed taxes by design and by law are supposed to be used to promote and enhance tourism since it is a direct five percent tax on hotel guests who visit Niagara Falls.
Now the council majority says bed tax money is going to be used for that which enhances tourism and first and foremost is to make the city safer.
During the past few years, before the majority on the council started to cut waste and extravagance, the NACC, a corporation that rents studios to local artists, got $150,000 of bed tax money. What the NACC has to do with tourism is hard to pin down.
The Ontario House Jazz Festival got $30,000 for a jazz party on a vacant lot where, perhaps, a thousand people attended. They’ve been cut by the Council Majority.
The billion-dollar Hard Rock Cafe got $150,000 of bed tax money, on top of $500,000 in casino money for concerts. The Majority eliminated their funding this year.
The Blues Festival got $20,000 but the majority sliced them to $1,500.
Even little league teams – that have nothing to do with tourism- were getting handouts from bed tax money. The Boundary Water treaty celebration was given $19,000.
For a city that had to go after Nik Wallenda for costs associated with his historic walk, the city was pleased to pony up more than $10,000 for Hard Rock’s portable potties.
Clubs, rallies, you name it – everyone was coming for a gift of public money.
Then came the new council majority who said we cannot afford this kind of government.
Who want to have priorities with limited resources: Like safe streets for tourists and residents.
Chief DalPorto, since becoming the new commanding officer, has placed more patrol cars on the street and instituted more walking patrols on the main streets and in some city neighborhoods. According to anecdotal information, it appears it is having some impact.
Crime may actually be down, thanks in part to the Chief’s no nonsense approach to policing and the perception amongst the criminal element that this guy is no pushover.
“Chief DalPorto is creative, is driven, and has a lot of ideas,” said Choolokian. “There’s been a lot of talk about increasing our crime fighting efforts, now it’s being funded and we’re going forward with someone ready, willing and able to work with us: Chief DalPorto and his hard-working police force.”
“At the end of the day,” added Anderson, “there’s simply no substitute for old fashioned police work and that means putting officers on the street and officers walking the beat. Law abiding citizens prefer a visible police force and the bad guys hate it. And we want to ruin the bad guy’s day.”