If the City of Lockport can't obtain property tax relief on its water supply line any other way, it should turn to the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, a county legislator said last week.
Legislator Harry J. Apolito, D-Lockport, who has tried unsuccessfully several times to obtain reduced or abolished taxes on the land through which the 13-mile pipe runs, introduced a resolution at Tuesday's meeting calling on the IDA to consider a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes -- or PILOT -- arrangement for the city.
Apolito called the request "a last resort," but he also went for some political points at the expense of the IDA's decision last year to grant a PILOT to the AES Corp. power plant in Somerset, the county's largest taxpayer.
He said a Lockport PILOT would have some similarities to AES' request. "There's no jobs being created. There's no expansion," Apolito said.
Although the resolution contains a few such pokes at the AES deal, a veteran IDA official said a water line PILOT has been done before in other counties.
Assistant Director Larry D. Witul said he recalls the Orleans County IDA granting a PILOT for the Town of Albion's water line about 25 years ago.
The catch was that the Orleans IDA required all the town's savings from the tax break to be returned to water customers in the form of lower rates.
IDA attorney Mark J. Gabriele said, "I'd have to take a look at it [to confirm the plan's legality]."
Lockport has to pay taxes to the City of North Tonawanda, the towns of Wheatfield and Pendleton and the North Tonawanda, Starpoint and Niagara-Wheatfield school districts on the strip of land containing the water supply line from the Niagara River. The Town of Lockport and the Lockport school district decline to tax the city on that.
But the property taxes the city paid last year to the other entities totaled $240,864, and this year's county tax was $64,456.
The city blames the rising taxes in part for steady increases in water rates, which have driven the average homeowner's quarterly water and sewer bill over $135. Last year, the city sued Wheatfield, Pendleton and North Tonawanda to try to get the assessment lowered on the water line. That case is still unsettled.
Mayor Michael W. Tucker, vice chairman of the IDA, said his preference is direct tax relief.
"Really, we should get some tax relief from the county. The county forced us to hire some lawyers we didn't need to hire," Tucker said.
But Apolito's several resolutions for tax relief have never gotten out of committee. Former Legislator Glenn S. Aronow, R-Lockport, fared no better when he tried such a resolution a couple of years ago.