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Thin IDA vote blocks bank's tax exemption

Poor attendance at Thursday's Niagara County Industrial Development Agency board meeting caused First Niagara Bank's request for a sales tax exemption to stumble.

Board member John J. Petrozzi II of Wheatfield went into action after the meeting with a plan to save the deal after its surprise defeat on what is normally a routine vote.

Only five of the nine IDA members showed up Thursday, meaning voting had to be unanimous if anything was to pass. And everything was unanimous, except for a vote on formally accepting First Niagara's request not to pay sales tax on some $2.1 million worth of computer equipment and building materials for a renovation at its headquarters on South Transit Road in Pendleton.

IDA Chairman Henry M. Sloma voted against that request, which would save the bank about $200,000. The 4-1 margin wasn't good enough to pass the usually routine preliminary acceptance resolution.

"I personally struggled with the application," Sloma said. He noted that in 1997, the IDA gave the bank a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, arrangement on the headquarters, which was five years longer than the bank normally would have qualified for.
"I think it's fair to say they have become successful, and now they're back for a sales tax exemption on what I see as a routine upgrade of equipment," Sloma said. "The taxpayers of Niagara County and the school district, Starpoint, have been very generous."

Edward H. Nickson, First Niagara's first vice president for facilities management, said work on the renovation has begun. It involves installing emergency power generators and an expanded data center. First Niagara recently bought an Albany-area bank and plans to move its data operations to Pendleton, which is a big part of the reason for the renovation.

"I don't think First Niagara made clear the total scope of the project. In their mind, they probably thought it was a cut-and-dried deal," said Petrozzi, who is a strong supporter of the request. "We don't do maintenance."

A public hearing had been set for Aug. 14, but that may change. "You don't want to slow up construction. We think of ourselves as a service agency," Petrozzi said.


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