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Mayoral contest diverges Property taxes and reassessments emerge as late issues for Thomason, Dyster in Falls

Property taxes and the way homes are assessed have emerged as two late issues as mayoral candidates Candra C. Thomason and Paul A. Dyster begin the final five days of campaigning before the election.

Thomason has latched onto the two issues this week as she seeks to energize a campaign that has been overshadowed by Dyster's strong victory in the Democratic primary.

Thomason, a Republican, started a debate Tuesday night by promising that, if elected, she would end the city's assessment program.

Wednesday, she built on that announcement with an afternoon news conference in which she outlined a plan to pump $7 million of casino revenue directly into the city's operating budget in 2009 -- a move city leaders currently believe is barred by state law.

The additional money would be used to give all properties a tax break, Thomason said.

"The casino money was determined to be used to spur economic development, and that's exactly what we're going to do," Thomason said.

State law governing how the city can use its share of casino slot machine revenue currently limits the money to a small number of items, including economic development and capital expenditures. City attorneys have said the law prohibits the city from using the money directly in its general fund budget.

But Thomason said she would argue that her plan to use the casino money for a direct tax break is economic development because it would entice new businesses to move into the city.

Mayor Vince Anello -- who was knocked off the ballot before the Democratic primary and is not running for re-election -- said city leaders are already using as much casino money as possible in the city budget.

"To try to let people believe that she has some kind of magic wand that she's going to wave over the law, that's totally crazy," Anello said. "The law is written the way it's written, and to promise things that you can't deliver is wrong. If that was possible, I would have promised the whole batch go into the general budget. This way, I could have been a hero."

The city currently uses casino funds to offset property taxes lost to the Seneca Niagara Casino, to pay for public-safety expenses related to the casino and to offset debt on capital expenditures.

The proposed budget for 2008 would use $4.4 million in casino funds.

Dyster said Wednesday he has not yet seen a copy of Thomason's proposal and wanted to analyze it before responding.

"Proposals that could have far-reaching implications should have been aired far earlier in the campaign," Dyster said. "I have a concern that what's happening now is that a whole series of proposals are being made basically to get publicity in the last days of the campaign."

Both candidates outlined their outlook for the city's assessment program during the debate Tuesday, with Thomason saying reassessments would not happen under her administration.

Dyster believes that assessments should "track as closely as possible to the real property value of your home" to be fair to every homeowner but said he opposes any use of assessments as a way to increase the city's property tax revenue.

He said properties need to be reviewed regularly to ensure that the city's assessment of their value has not risen significantly above or fallen below market value.

"Doing reassessments is part of the way that city government operates, and to say that you're never, ever, going to reassess properties again is not realistic," Dyster said.

He believes that the city needs to focus on holding down the cost of government and addressing downtown land speculators who are "not paying their fair share."

"Assessments should never be used as a backdoor tool for tax increases," Dyster said.

Anello and the City Council last year agreed to stop annually reassessing properties. Instead, they implemented a new program in which properties are reviewed every three years to determine whether the city's assessment matches a property's market value.

The annual assessment program provoked a passionate response from LaSalle residents last year, and the issue has been rekindled as the city gears up to start reviewing properties again next year for a 2009 reassessment.

Maribeth Adkins said she is concerned that the city's tax rate is "making it impossible for people to be able to sell their properties in town." Combined with increasing property assessments in some areas of the city, Adkins contends, homeowners are being hit twice on their tax bills.

Adkins and Rivershore Drive resident Marci Reinhold spent Wednesday contacting residents and drafting letters in an effort to make Tuesday's mayoral election a referendum on city assessments.

"They're making it impossible for people to live here," said Adkins, a 90th Street resident. "It's going to become one big rental district."


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