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AS NIAGARA FALLS
TALES OF THE STRANGE BUT TRUE

Tale of two cities

People on the American side of the border may soon have another reason to hop over to Niagara Falls, Ont.

In addition to myriad tourist attractions, restaurants, casinos, nightlife and a favorable exchange rate, the latest draw may be library books.

The Niagara Falls Public Library on this side of the border has been a community landmark and cultural center for 110 years. But all that could end July 1, the day city funding ends. The library is facing a complete shutdown, and the City Council says it has no additional funds to keep it open.

Patrons have already been advised to return books and videos by April 15 to give the staff time to do an inventory of the 300,000 books and provide an orderly shutdown.

Meanwhile, the Niagara Falls, Ont., library system is doing so well that a third branch is scheduled to open in the fall, said Andrew Porteus, manager of the reference department.

The silver lining in the story from the American side: U.S. residents can take out books on the Canadian side by paying an annual nonresident fee of $23 U.S.

Another sewer mess

Oops, they did it again.

A month after the Niagara County Legislature had to correct the property tax bill of a Newfane couple who was overcharged by more than $37,000 for their sewer fee, the Legislature is to vote again Tuesday to rectify another sewer tax blooper.

This time, the aggrieved party is the Olympia Restaurant, a Greek restaurant on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Wheatfield.

The Niagara County Sewer District supplied wrong information about the property to the town assessor's office. Businesses are charged for sewer taxes based on "equivalent dwelling units." The Olympia was assessed at 162 units when the number should have been 23.

The result was that a sewer tax bill that ought to have been $6,233 was issued at $26,478. The Legislature is expected to vote to reduce the bill by $20,245. Any way you slice it, that's a lot of gyros.

Rights and talk shows

Civil rights activist Minnijean Brown Trickey is a pretty serious woman. And why not?

She has been facing adversity and fighting for people's rights since she was one of the Little Rock Nine in 1957, the group of black teens who faced down an angry mob, threats, assaults and put up with many indignities to integrate Little Rock Central High School. She also fled to Canada in the 1960s to avoid having her then-husband serve in the Vietnam War.

But she does have a sense of humor.

After fielding a lot of serious questions from students and adults during a recent speech at the Doris W. Jones Family Resource Center in Niagara Falls -- where she criticized the government for not doing its job to protect citizens' rights and the press for not asking the tough questions that force political and corporate accountability -- Minnijean tossed out a little satire to end her presentation.

As a center official was calling an end to the session, Minnijean yelled, "Stop! Let me answer the burning question which you didn't have the guts to ask me. How is Oprah (Winfrey)? Well, she is fine. She is truly amazing. I just want to let you know that."

The crowd knew Minnijean has appeared on Oprah's talk show, which is normally a friendly venue for any visitor . . . and which most people know more about than their rights and what is being done to erode them.

With contributions from Bill Michelmore, Thomas J. Prohaska and Paul Westmoore of The News Niagara Bureau.