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Writog: writer-photographer.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Arts Versus Taxes




NCCCA Executive Director Susan Daul speaks from the podium, explaining why the Common Council should honor its previous vote and help NCCCA secure the Federal Building.



Both sides were out in force at the Common Council meeting Thursday evening.

On one side: people who want to keep their taxes low.

On the other side: people who value art, seeing beyond the need to always make the cost factor a prime concern.

And somewhere between the two sides are those who want more discussion.

Background to the controversy: last year the Common Council was in favor of letting the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts – NCCCA – have first crack on the Federal Building on Brinkerhoff Street when the Feds finally move out. NCCCA would combine the building with the Strand, connecting it with a walkway, thus forming a cultural complex that would provide a variety of activities such as art classes.

Mayor Donald Kasprzak prefers to put the building back on the tax rolls, selling it to a for-profit entity. But as he and others pointed out during the meeting, in one way any discussion about the building is premature until certain requirements are met with the Feds, e.g., it must be offered as low cost housing.

The pro-NCCCA side wants the Common Council to honor its unanimous vote last year in favor of the Arts Center taking over the Fed building. NCCCA had expected everything was settled, planning ahead to use the building, until Mayor Kasprzak tossed a political monkey wrench into the mix.

At times sitting in the audience during the Common Council meeting was like attending a sporting event. The Nay side would score and there was applause. But then the Yea side made a point and its followers would applaud.

The person next to me, knowing that I was with the Yea/pro-NCCCA side, nudged me to join in the applause. But that’s hard to do with a notepad and camera in hand. I was there to document, to make observations. I’m not into politics or sports; just journalism of the citizen kind.



Councilor George Rabideau gestures as he explains why his
POV regarding the NCCCA and the Federal Building has changed since last year.



At one point the Yea side took a shot when Councilor George Rabideau discussed an email he wrote last year to Sylvia Stack, President of the NCCCA, saying that he supported the Arts Center cause. Councilor Michael Drew, who was pushing for a resolution to help NCCCA, mentioned the email when he had the floor.

Councilor Rabideau became particularly animated when he spoke about the email. He appeared a bit upset that the personal correspondence was being used to argue in favor of NCCCA’s plan. Yes, he stated, he did support NCCCA at that time. But now he was with the Nay crowd.

Why? Because, said Rabideau, things changed after July 2006 when the City of Plattsburgh learned in December 2006 that it was facing a big debt and had to raise taxes. Taxpayers were lined outside the Common Council chambers back then, angry over the hit they were going to take. He added that tax increases are a primary concern of his constituents.

But the Yea crowd held in there. Councilor Michael Drew offered to modify the wording of his resolution, saying that the city would offer its support in the efforts of NCCCA to gain the Federal Building. The pro-NCCCA side won, four councilors voting Yes, two voting No.

But the issue isn’t quite over. New councilors are coming on board next year; they will have their takes on the issue. And the city still has to meet with the GSA in regards to what hurdles have to be jumped in getting possession of the Federal Building when it’s vacated in August 2008.

In one way everyone was on the same side. During the meeting a pol on the Nay side would point out, “Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m for the arts.” The individual would mention that he played a musical instrument in his younger years or dutifully attended a son’s concert. Apparently not supporting the arts is almost as heinous as not supporting the troops.

So the future will tell how much real help the arts will get from city leaders. Besides NCCCA, the only place you can find active culture in Plattsburgh is in a cup of yogurt at the supermarket.


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