New legions of foot soldiers are joining the battle to curb taxes in order to boost the region's sagging economy - local real estate agents.
The Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors on Thursday kicked off a campaign to train its 2,500 members and arm them with findings from the Who Does What? Commission. They will branch out and spread the news about the commission's 17 recommendations that it estimates will save $48 million each year, if implemented.
"The most troubling fact about the devastating effects of this region's excessive taxation is that it doesn't have to be this way," said Michael P. McDonough, president of the Realtors association. "If people could spend less on taxes and more on home improvement, not only would property values rise, but landscapers, contractors and building suppliers and furniture stores would all benefit too."
County Executive Joel A. Giambra spoke to the group of 50 real estate agents, thanking them for supporting his effort to improve the region's economy through cooperation and regionalism.
"We're still on the list of the highest-taxed communities in the country. We have to get ourselves off that list," said Giambra, noting there are 73 taxing jurisdictions in Erie County.
In the Buffalo-Niagara region, a $100,000 home owner faces $2,500 in taxes each year, according to the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors. In Lexington, Ky., the same home owner would pay $968.
But the Who Does What? Commission's hardest task may not be generating the report but getting governments to adopt its recommendations. While researching its recommendations, some local governments were uncooperative and hesitant to provide information.
Many politicians hope that the study will soon be forgotten and become yet another document on a library shelf, said Andrew J. Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, which created the Who Does What? Commission. "Most elected officials think they can outlast the private sector and that we will go away sooner or later because we have day jobs," he said.
He pointed out that many local officials are up for election, including Amherst Council member Bob Brewer, who attended the forum and has met resistance in promoting consolidation within his own town government. The association feels it is an ideal time for real estate agents to spread the message, "Costs less, works better."
"Our property taxes are too high. They are a detriment to the economy and a barrier to purchasing homes," Rudnick said. "They are quantifiable, universal and always the first thing business-location decision-makers look at in a community . . . and they pass us by."