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COUNCIL CONSIDERING WHETHER TO FUND OR ABANDON ANNUAL CANAL FEST

The Tonawanda City Council will spend the next few weeks weighing what would be the greater expense to the city: spending the several thousand dollars in overtime to continue holding its side of the annual Canal Fest, or the cost to the community if Tonawanda opts out of the festival this year.

Council members met with representatives from the Canal Fest Corp. on Tuesday evening during an informal meeting. Canal Fest has approached the city with a three-year deal to continue holding its end of the event, paying the city $12,000 a year in expenses and an additional $3,000 in a flexible fund, which would be used toward capital improvements in the city.

The flexible capital fund is a $1,000 increase over the previous two-year deal signed in 2003. North Tonawanda, the co-holder of the event, has received only $12,000 for one-year deals. Canal Fest is looking to negotiate a five-year deal with North Tonawanda this year.

However, members of the community have questioned why the city can't be completely reimbursed for whatever expenses it incurs in the staging of the event.

Figures from last year show that the City of Tonawanda spends about $21,000 in overtime for members of the police, fire, public works, and parks and recreation departments.

Canal Fest representatives were quick to respond that the event organizers work with nonprofit organizations that use Canal Fest as a major fund-raiser.

In addition, the corporation gives scholarships to students from Tonawanda and North Tonawanda and supports projects in the community, such as the capital improvements payment.

"We understand that the city and taxpayers are under fiscal pressures," said Randy Fahs of Canal Fest. "We're also feeling the pinch. We want to give the community the idea that we're trying to work with them."

Alderwoman Colleen R. Perkins said she would prefer the city have the entire $15,000 payment to use at its discretion.

Alderman James P. Kossow said everybody has to decide whether the money spent to support Canal Fest is worth it.

"I think it is," he said. "I don't advocate spending taxpayer dollars, but you have to look at the big picture."

"I think we have to be realistic," Perkins said. "I have to ask the questions that my constituents have been asking me."

The Council will vote on the three-year agreement in the near future, but no date has been scheduled.

Canal Fest is scheduled to run from July 17-24.

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