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TAX CLAUSE IN LEASE PLAN STIRS DEBATE

Democratic county legislators objected Monday to a provision in the county's proposed lease on the Golden Triangle Building that requires the county to pay future city and school tax hikes on the building.

The Legislature's Finance Committee approved the 10-year lease with Ulrich Development Co. for the 27,000-square-foot building, but not after a lengthy debate over the tax clause. The lease will cost about $300,000 a year.

Also, Robin DeVoe, deputy public works commissioner for buildings and grounds, said the cost of the lease will be offset by moving two more departments into the downtown building.

The Office for the Aging and the Veterans Service office would be moved from the county-owned Switzer Building on Davison Road.

They will join the Lockport auto bureau, the Board of Elections and the Probation, Human Resources and Risk and Insurance departments, which are leaving the courthouse or adjoining buildings.

DeVoe said the state will reimburse part of the rent because of the Office for the Aging's presence in the building. He also said the county's court reimbursement from the state will rise by $186,000 as the court system takes over another 15,000 square feet in the courthouse.

But Legislators Robert L. Seger, D-North Tonawanda, and Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, objected to the tax provision.

The lease says Ulrich pays the 2002 property tax bill on the building, and will continue to pay that amount to the city, school district and county every year thereafter. Any increases in the taxes will be paid by the county to the City of Lockport and the Lockport City School District.

Seger demanded projections for future school taxes.

"It's impossible," said Legislator Lee Simonson, R-Lewiston. "We're sitting here in the Finance Committee of Niagara County, and we don't know what the taxes are going to be three months from now."

Virtuoso said, "We don't know what our true cost is. . . . We're rushing into this too quick." He told DeVoe to report an estimate of future taxes before the Legislature votes on the lease tonight.

Ulrich has already agreed to the county's demand not to increase the rent in the first five years of the deal. The 2.5 percent annual hikes Ulrich wanted won't start until the sixth year.

Simonson said the only way to protect the county from city and school tax increases is to shorten the term of the lease and renegotiate the rent every two years.

"In the regular world, they'd just raise the rent and not give you a reason," he said.

"If you didn't want to pay the (tax) increase, (Ulrich) would have to add a calculated figure," said Legislator Robert R. Villani, R-Town of Niagara.

"He'd have to estimate high because he doesn't know. He's not going to take a loss," said Majority Leader Shirley G. Urtel, R-Cambria.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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