|Robert Anderson says, “Enough is enough!”
|John Percy’s NTCC got $14 million of taxpayer money, yet he refuses to say how it was spent.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. But like a lot of good ideas, it eventually went south, and took a lot of taxpayer money with it.
When George Maziarz and Francine DelMonte breathed life into the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation (NTCC) back in 2002, it meant the closing of the Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau (NFCVB) and the Niagara County Tourism Office.
Both of these agencies had functioned quite well since they were set up in the 1970s.
But track records aside, the two state reps worked to convince - and convince they did - the Niagara Falls city government and the Niagara County Legislature to jump on board the shiny new tourism promotion vehicle they proposed: the NTCC.
The County Legislature was glad to close their tourism promotion office (in reality, the legislature left the county office open for one politically-connected county employee who, to this day, works out of the NTCC) and the NFCVB went the way of the dinosaur with not so much as a fond farewell from all of those who had supported it over the years.
Many good employees from both agencies were suddenly unemployed. Some, like that one county worker and John Percy of the NFCVB were hired by the NTCC.
The question of how to fund the NTCC was answered thusly: it shall be funded via bed tax revenues.
That eventually came to mean a countywide bed tax budget of roughly $1 million per year, with over 90 percent of the bed tax courtesy of Niagara Falls. One year into the NTCC experiment, Maziarz and DelMonte then recommended that $1 million of casino revenue be added yearly to the NTCC budget: and so it was done.
Fast forward to today, where the NTCC operates with about a dozen full-time employees out of a grand information center they constructed several years ago. John Percy knocks down about $130,000 per year. He also has a benefits package and perks that are none of our business, so he says.
Strange as it seems, while the city gives the NTCC $1 million annually in bed tax and the Senecas were paying another million in casino revenue, the NTCC claims that the details of its operation are “proprietary in nature.”
In other words, “even though you fund us, you have no right to know how we spend your money.”
With the city budget crisis showing no signs of easing, and with the casino revenue owed the city at $60 million and counting, talk has begun as to how defunding the NTCC could save the city mega-millions.
The city - through bed tax funds and casino revenue - has already gifted them more than $15 million. Many of those dollars went into large salaries and trips across the globe for Percy and company to places like India, Germany and England. Someone has to do the heavy tourism lifting.
As the talk of defunding occurs, the NTCC defenders and tourism insiders who benefit from being inside with Mr. Percy are railing behind the scenes as to how – when defunded – the NTCC will cease to operate and the city’s tourism industry as we know it will end.
These NTCC cheerleaders are shockingly insensitive to the plight of the city; insensitive to the fact that the homeowners and businesses narrowly escaped a huge tax increase for 2013; insensitive to the fact that the casino revenue – all $60 million of it – may never come in; and, insensitive to the very real financial crisis facing Niagara Falls.
They are also ignorant of the tourism reality in Niagara Falls, which is to say that people will come to see the mighty Cataracts in large numbers, as they’ve been doing for more than two centuries, before the NTCC or the NFCVB or the county tourism office existed, and before John Percy was even born.
At the time of its creation, it was recommended that the new organization devise ways to become self-sufficient. Some recommendations at the time were: to generate revenue as a membership organization; to claim a portion of the elevator fee in the observation tower; to charge a tax to the attractions and tour companies in the county; to identify corporate sponsors, and so on. Ten years on, the NTCC has done none of this, and so they remain permanently latched on to the nipple of public assistance.
Why is that?
In a city with an average household income of less than $25,000, in a city where the average home can be purchased for under $30,000, and in a city that has more Dollar Stores per square mile than perhaps any other city in the state, the NTCC continues to live high on the hog as a publicly supported, quasi-governmental entity.
Worse yet, and adding insult to injury, the agency and its flacks squeal like the proverbial stuck pig when their corporate welfare allotment is threatened with cutoff.
If the NTCC is defunded and those bed tax and casino dollars are directed elsewhere, the NTCC will do just fine. It will never die; it will just morph into something else. Percy’s benefactors - the Maid of the Mist and USA Niagara - will not let it die and funding sources will be identified pronto.
And that will be just fine for the city taxpayers because as long as the city gifts millions of dollars to the NTCC, the NTCC will never pay its own way.
At the end of the day, is the NTCC any better than the individual who drains the public assistance system while refusing to seek employment?
The answer is clearly no; they are no better at all.
The brain trust of an NTCC stripped of its welfare payday will calculate a way to move forward and the tourists will still come to visit the falls, in spite of all the tomfoolery and political nonsense we endlessly engage in here.
Let’s bring the failed NTCC experiment in government welfare to an end.