Niagara Gazette — City lawmakers will take more time to examine a proposed settlement on a tax assessment challenge before voting on its approval.
The city council voted unanimously on Monday to table a proposed settlement at between the city and One Niagara LLC that would see the owners of the former Occidental Chemical Corp. offices on Rainbow Boulevard pay $1.5 million to the city and school district.
Council members asked questions of Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson — his office has conducted negotiations with One Niagara for more than two years and put the measure to approve the deal on the agenda — before Councilman Sam Fruscione suggested the council table the measure.
Fruscione, who will not be on the council next year having lost his seat in the fall elections, said he would not vote on the measure, which would see One Niagara's assessment significantly reduced for several years worth of back taxes, and that Councilman-elect Andrew Touma should vote on the measure when he assumes Fruscione's seat in January.
"Let the new guy do it," Fruscione said.
Fruscione went on to suggest that Mayor Paul Dyster, whose signature does not appear on the measure, was trying to get the council to do his "dirty work."
Dyster maintains that his office had no hand in the negotiations, only receiving updates from Johnson and Deputy Corporation Counsel Thomas O'Donnell who handled the bulk of the work related to the settlement.
"The recommendation for the settlement is coming from the corporation counsel," Dyster said.
Johnson said that settlements come from his office and do not require the signature of the mayor for approval.
The proposed settlement — which was supervised by New York State Supreme Court Justice Ralph Boniello III — would see the company pay a total of $1.5 million to the city and school district by the end of February with all taxes from July 1, 2009 to July 1, 2013, being revised to a $1 million assessment on the property, according to the resolution from Johnson's office.
In addition, the company would pay all taxes and penalties from before July 1, 2009 and all county taxes owed, though those figures were not available Monday night.
After the meeting Richard Soluri, the community and government relations director for One Niagara, said the company hopes the council will move forward with the settlement early next year.
"It's disappointing because it's going to delay us a little bit, but January is just around the corner," he said.
Solouri said the company will need to wait for the settlement to go through before they can consider any new development plans for the building.
"We're not going to get any financial institutions to contact us until that settlement," Soluri said. "Then we can move forward and we need to move forward."
But other council members said they still have questions they will need answered before they feel comfortable voting.
Councilman Charles Walker said he would only agree to the settlement if it was at the directive of the court.
"I really feel like we should be able to do a little bit better," he said.
Walker said that with the litigation more than two years in the works he'd like to better understand why the law department could not recover more of the back taxes, which the company and previous owners of the building have not paid for more than four years.
"If we accept this what could be the domino effects?" Walker said. "If you're reducing the assessment of that piece of property others may want the same thing."
Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257