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JUNE 24 - JULY 02, 2014

Fight Continues Over Subsidizing Artpark & Company, Spills Over to Bullet Proof Vests

By Frank Parlato

June 24, 2014

Aerial view of Artpark. Why do they need townsfolk to subsidize their multi-million operation?

Critics charge that, in his desire to support Artpark & Company, Inc., the not-for-profit company licensed to stage events at the Artpark State Park in Lewiston, Town of Lewiston Councilman Ron Winkley, a former police chief, has shortchanged the townspeople who will soon have to buy bulletproof vests for the police department that could have been paid by lessening subsidies to Artpark & Company. Inc.

Police Chief Chris Salada says the police department needs new bulletproof vests now.

Winkley says the suggestion is ridiculous.

“I spent my entire working life in law enforcement. The police department absolutely needs new vests, and we’re going to see that they get them,” Winkley told the Niagara Falls Reporter over the weekend. “I don’t see what this has to do with Artpark though.”

Winkley, who is a 26-year police veteran, said that normally, when bulletproof vests or other equipment is needed, the police chief includes it in his budget for the coming year. Chief Salada did not include the vests in his proposed budget, Winkley said, and the issue was not even brought up until May of this year, when the controversy over subsidizing Artpark erupted.

“When a resolution comes before us asking for funding to purchase bulletproof vests, you can be assured that it will be approved immediately,” he said. “Thus far, Dennis (Brochey) has not submitted one.”

While Winkley is right about the matter not coming before the board, he nevertheless voted against charging Artpark & Company, Inc., an extra $13,500 for police services the town provides by installing and taking down traffic cones and barricades along the Robert Moses Parkway as required by state DOT to help manage traffic during the 18 concert performances Artpark will stage this year.
The $13,500 is coincidentally the same amount as bullet proof vests are expected to cost.

Earlier this year, Winkley voted to continue the town's subsidy of Artpark & Company and discounted Town Supervisor Dennis Brochey's appeal that the town cannot afford to support Artpark. Brochey wanted Artpark to pay for all police services the town provides on concert nights, which he said included the $13,500 for barricades and signage.

"The town police could use that money to buy new bulletproof vests, which cost about $900 each, for the 15 men on the force,” Brochey said.

While Winkley voted to limit the amount that Artpark & Company will pay for police protection paid out of the $100,000 the town pays Artpark & Company as an annual subsidy, he did agree to allow Artpark to pay for some police services.

Winkley said the formula he used to determine what Artpark would pay is a simple one.

“Basically, it’s the actual amount of police overtime incurred plus 40 percent to cover overhead,” he said. “The reality is that Artpark is under no obligation to pay the town anything. This is just something they’d said they’d do.”

Brochey counters that the town is under no obligation to pay Artpark & Company anything. Brochey wants to cut the $100,000 annual subsidy to Artpark and wants Artpark to pay for all police services provided for their concerts.

Brochey's CPA finance director, Paul Koosterman, calculated that Artpark concerts cost the town in police services $74,500, plus the $13,500 for barricades for a total of $88,000.

Winkley said Brochey and Koosterman calculated the costs too high in his argument before the Republican controlled Town Board, which sided with him.

According to Brochey and Police Chief Chris Salada, it was Winkley who calculated too low.
Brochey said Winkley did not include costs for the extra police which have to be assigned on concert nights than would otherwise be on duty.

“I took every bit of overtime," Winkley said. "This was the exact same costs the chief came up with himself in the bill he submitted to Artpark. I really have no idea where this is coming from. Until you called, I had never heard Artpark linked with the bulletproof vests in any way, shape or form.”

Winkley, a Republican, enjoys the support of fellow Republicans Michael Marra, William Conrad and Al Bax, who also voted to support the Artpark & Company subsidies.

Thus far, a proposal for the purchase of bulletproof vests has not been brought before the town board.

At the end of the day, Brochey could not get Artpark & Company to pay for its own existence.

The seniors of this town, the retired, the hard working, those with families, who work all year to pay their bills, may one day have a town tax imposed in part to pay for Artpark & Company.

Town Internal Claims Auditor Mike Johnson said there is about a $5 million reserve that the board is cutting into every year.

"We have a few more years before a town tax will be needed, if we don't cut spending," Johnson said.
"I am worried about 2015 and 2016," said Johnson, who plans to retire this August.

Meanwhile, as the town operates at a deficit, in 2013, the town's contribution to Artpark & Company was $104,000 in direct payments, $74,500 in police services for crowd and traffic control during Artpark concerts, and $13,500 in manpower to install and remove signs and barricades on concert nights, according to Brochey’s figures.

According to Brochey, the total cost to Lewiston for 2013 for Artpark was $187,850.

This year, after the Republican majority board agreed to allow Artpark to pay $40,000 towards police and parkway signage out of their $100,000 payment from the town, the net cost to the town for Artpark for 2014 will be an estimated $147,850.

The Town of Lewiston is the only town that subsidizes Artpark, and, considering that the town operated at a $700,000 deficit last year, Artpark subsidies made up 27 percent of the town deficit.
This year Koosterman estimates the town deficit is going to be a half- million dollars. With Artpark costing the town $147,850, Artpark is causing 29 percent of the deficit for 2104.

Artpark & Company President George Osborne, who is paid $120,000 per year plus incentives for his summertime work, gave sales tax numbers that suggest Artpark & Company was responsible for nearly $13 million in gross sales last year. More than 250,000 people attended Artpark events, most of them paying something, many of them buying concessions sold by Artpark & Company.

While Brochey failed to keep the $100,000 (it comes from Modern tipping fee payment) from going to Artpark, he raised awareness of it, as he claimed that, after 10 years, Artpark & Company ought to be able to fund itself.

Winkley and his GOP board outvoted him.

While Brochey tried to get Artpark & Company to pay the full cost of police services, Winkley and the GOP-controlled board said Artpark should only pay his calculations of net cost of police services.

Winkley said, "We're not going to make a profit off Artpark, that's not what government is for."

Ultimately, the GOP-controlled board approved charging Artpark & Company $40,000 to cover costs associated with police services and signs and barricades. Brochey voted against the motion.

During negotiations, Brochey told Artpark & Company that he wasn't prepared to deploy town employees to put up signs and barricades for less than $13,500 for the year.

But Winkley and the Republicans voted against having Artpark pay anything extra and voted to include the $13,500 in the already agreed upon $40,000 to be paid by Artpark for police.

Brochey told the Reporter, "I can't understand why Ron fights so hard for Artpark & Company. If Artpark can afford to put on concerts and pay acts like Ringo Starr and Ziggy Marley, who, I am pretty sure, did not give any discounts or subsidies on their fees, why does Ron think the town should subsidize Artpark?"

In other venues, Starr tickets go for upwards of $185 to as much as $550 per ticket. In Lewiston, Artpark sold Ringo Starr tickets for as little as $17.

The people of the town are in effect subsidizing up to 12,000 people per concert, most of them from outside Lewiston.

As one reviewer said on of Artpark, "Ticket prices were insanely low - $12.00 admission which is just crazy."

Last year, Artpark attracted 267,050 visitors, with its various concerts and performances.


Taxpayer subsidized Ringo Starr concerts? Only in Lewiston!






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