PICCIRILLO: 10 facts and 1 fiction: Stopping a reassessment

Fact: A reassessment of the city’s property values will cause nearly everyone’s taxes to go up.

Fact: The current two-tier tax structure is unfair and unstable, year over year and pits responsible home and business owners against each other. Each year, when the mayor and city council approve the annual budget, they must set two tax rates: one for homestead parcels and one for non-homestead parcels. Whether businesses or homeowners endure the pain in any given year should not be dictated by the political pressure these groups can apply to the mayor and council members that year.

Fact: A traditional tax equalization within our city’s wrongheaded two-tiered system will make all home owner tax rate goes up. This is simple. Homeowner rates are currently half that of non-homeowner rates. When rates meet in the middle, homeowners pay more.

Fact: Under the current tax system, land speculators holding undeveloped properties and vacant buildings have a better financial deal than responsible home and business owners. By demolishing buildings and challenging assessments, speculators take advantage of a huge flaw in our property tax system, which punishes owners for developing their properties but rewards those who choose to let land sit empty and idle, even when that land could be put to productive use.

Fact: A Land Value Tax (LVT) would penalize land speculators (that’s why they oppose it). For example the vacant “Turtle” building downtown pays $30,000 in taxes, after the city council voted to reduce them in 2013. Under land value tax, those taxes would go up to $74,000, providing tax relief to home and active business owners. These vacant development parcels are simply more valuable on the open market than most homes and small business parcels, and should be taxed accordingly. We also need to finally make it clear that we are no longer open for land speculation business.

Fact: A Land Value Tax would set the tax rate based on the value of your land and not the building on it. Currently, 17 municipalities, including school districts, use a land value tax. More information about those locations, and our plan, is available at www.sethforNF.com/tax

Fact: I am the only candidate in this primary election that opposes reassessment. LVT is a way to cut taxes for homeowners and make sure that do-nothing developers either add value to this community or pay a fair share of the city’s tax burden, rather than forcing you to pick up the tab.

Fact: Ensuring that owners with side lots at their homes and businesses still have a favorable tax rate is critically important. I am an advocate for people buying and investing in vacant parcels in their neighborhoods. Our Land Value Tax would reflect that advocacy.

Fact: My opponent, Robert Restaino, stressed the need for a traditional reassessment and a single tax rate (equalization) at the June 5 Niagara USA Chamber debate. He also stated that we could never reform our own tax structure because of the “difficulties of the realities of New York state.”

Fact: Under the current two-tier system, the average Niagara Falls property pays roughly $1,000 annually in city taxes. Even if Mr. Restaino could cut city costs significantly (though he has presented no specific plan for this), under his reassessment and equalization plan, the amount increases to roughly $1,400, on average. However, in areas like LaSalle and DeVeaux the figure would be much higher, as values have grown much faster there in recent years. LVT would reduce the average amount paid to roughly $837.

Fact: The time for nice but vague political rhetoric is over. Leaders need to present real plans. I have a plan to reduce taxes and prevent reassessment/equalization. My opponent does not.

The idea that our city cannot reform its own tax structure is a pure fiction, meant to relieve politicians from responsibility. It is also the type of thinking that has precipitated a decades-long decline in Niagara Falls. We need to control our own financial future with sound policies. We need to show respect to our resilient business owners by offering a predictable and fair tax rate. We cannot afford to punish home owners with a traditional reassessment and must stop penalizing them for improving their properties. The process of securing approval from the state of New York for a land value tax system in Niagara Falls is nowhere near as difficult as balancing a budget by gutting city services and taxing homeowners to outrageous levels while land speculators sit on valuable properties downtown and pay almost nothing.

We cannot keep saying that we will “roll up our sleeves” to solve a problem when at the end of the day we are committed to a system that created the problem in the first place.

Seth Piccirillo is a life-long resident of Niagara Falls and a candidate for mayor.