Artpark has become a crown jewel for the Town of Lewiston, which is why it is important that both entities come to a reasonable solution to their financial squabble.
Supervisor Dennis J. Brochey recently presented the Town Board with a set of numbers that added up to nearly $2 million of town money that has been used to help fund Artpark over the past 11 years.
Brochey’s obligation is to the town’s taxpayers, which he feels get somewhat neglected when town resources are directed to Artpark. Therefore, he indicated that he wants to stop paying Artpark a share of the town’s annual Modern Disposal tipping fees and have Artpark cover the cost of police protection for Tuesday and Wednesday summer concerts.
He points to the town’s financial issues. There’s the worn-out senior bus with 171,000 miles on it, a senior center with a leaky roof and no air conditioning, the sewer department that needs a new roof, roads that need repaving and a new, larger water line in front of Lewiston-Porter School.
That’s not to mention the combined $3 million the town needs and the fact that the town is “overbonded,” according to Brochey, at $14.4 million.
The supervisor said that each year the town gives Artpark $120,000 in tipping fees. He would rather that money go into the town coffers. Moreover, he says the town is paying $65,000 toward police protection during the Artpark summer concert season. The Village of Lewiston pays 19 percent or $12,350.
Like every other municipality in Western New York, Lewiston is under financial stress. It’s easy to understand why the supervisor wants to get his hands on the cash going to Artpark. But the consequences of redirecting that money must be carefully considered.
The contract between Modern Disposal and the Town of Lewiston sends the $120,000 in tipping fees to Artpark strictly for programming for children and families, items such as art, music and theater camp, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and visual arts programs.
Artpark, a nonprofit cultural institution, does not make money on those programs. The funding from the tipping fees amounts to a vital boost for this programming, which is entirely separate from the successful popular music concerts.
The contract allows the town to redirect the money back into its own coffers. However, cutting funding to the venue suddenly and without proper input from various stakeholders in the community would be shortsighted.
Consider how much the entertainment venue, which was opened by the state 30 years ago on the Niagara Gorge, brings to the table. Artpark officials say more than 220,000 people attended programming in 2013, with an economic impact of $10.7 million. The venue generates income for the local government and spends $1.4 million in the region for services, equipment, supplies and advertising.
Brochey’s concerns are real, but they should be addressed in a process that allows both parties to come to a reasonable agreement and in a time frame that does not create any unpleasant surprises that could harm this regional tourist attraction.