Mayoral candidates

Seth Piccirillo and Robert Restaino

It has been one of the most hotly debate topics of the Democratic mayoral primary campaign.

And while Seth Piccirillo and Robert Restaino may agree on some things, like engaging in direct dialogue with the Seneca Nation of Indians on slot machine revenue sharing, it is clear they will never agree on the LVT — the land value tax.

Restaino has called the LVT a scheme.

Piccirillo says it's an approach to property taxation that is far fairer than the current system and could be a tool to deal with the city's collection of large-scale land speculators.

"Bob doesn't like the land value tax because the people who support him (financially) don't like it," Piccirillo said. "And if you look at his (campaign finance filings) one of his largest contributors is Hormoz Mansouri, who was involved with the Hastings' Main Street properties that were just finally sold."

Piccirillo has charged that under the city's current property tax policies, land speculators are under no pressure to actually develop property because they are rewarded with lower taxes for tearing down structures (like the recent demolition of the former Johnnie Ryan building) or leaving structures vacant and unused.

Under the land value tax that would change.

"If (speculators) own land that is valuable in areas like the downtown core, their taxes would go up," Piccirillo said. "If it became more difficult to carry that land, because of the increased (property tax) costs, then they will develop (the property to make it more valuable) or sell it."

Piccirillo points to speculators like Niagara Falls Redevelopment (NFR) who have owned properties like the former Turtle for years without developing them. The mayoral candidate said that under his plan the property taxes on the vacant Turtle would shoot up to $74,000, but would not increase even $1 more if NFR were to develop the land and replace the vacant structure there with something like a 10-story hotel and retail complex.

Restaino points out that instituting a land value tax would require action by the state legislature and the approval of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"It's not a tax plan that can be implemented from city hall," Restaino said.

He also challenges the idea that the LVT is a tool to spur development. 

"I would agree that we have properties that should be redeveloped," Restaino said. "But I believe we need to engage these people and see what they want to do. We need to look at codes and zoning (regulations) to make sure there are no impediments to development."

Restaino also suggested that the use of eminent domain was a vehicle that could be applied to land speculators. 

The current Falls school board president noted that a LVT would not apply to school or county taxes. And Restaino has denied calling for a citywide property reassessment to address current property tax inequalities.

Piccirillo said a reassessment would just pit homeowners against business owners under the city's current homestead/non-homestead tax system.

"(Restaino) has no plan to cut property taxes," Piccirillo charged.