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Amherst has passed a local law that, for the first time, controls commercial tax breaks under the state Real Property Tax Law.

Savings are unknown as yet, but the tax abatements for new or expanding businesses were costing the town about $150,000 a year, said Council Member Jane S. Woodward, who had been pushing for reforms for more than a year.

Tax breaks were automatic under a long-running state business and job-incentive program. However, the law was amended in 1995 to allow municipalities to weed out commercial projects they don't feel serve the purpose of the program -- to keep businesses in the state and create jobs.

Amherst created an Industrial and Commercial Incentive Board to study the law and develop local criteria for tax breaks under the state program. It is the first municipality in Western New York to take advantage of the amendment allowing local controls, Mrs. Woodward said.

The local law, unanimously approved by the Town Board this month, encourages a wide range of commercial development in nine so-called "enhancement areas." Outside these areas, businesses have to meet stricter criteria to receive tax breaks, and some are ineligible altogether.

The measure provides full tax incentives in older business districts that need an economic transfusion, but not in bustling new retail strips where the development would occur anyway.

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