Some Bailey Avenue businesses, fed up with paying special assessments for services they claim have been performed poorly, have received encouraging news from City Hall.
Buffalo Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo is urging the Common Council to dissolve a business improvement district that has been in the city charter for 23 years, claiming the management group is no longer viable.
University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell, who represents the stretch of Bailey Avenue between Hewitt and Phyllis avenues, vowed to file a bill that calls for disbanding the Bailey/Amherst District Management Association.
Formed in 1985, the district assesses fees to businesses based on property values, then uses the money to plow and sweep sidewalks, perform landscaping and erect holiday decorations. About 50 businesses have been paying fees ranging from $200 to $1,500 a year.
Russell said she received so many complaints from business owners that she asked the comptroller to do an audit.
"Businesses don't want to pay a special tax if they're not getting the services," she said.
Bailey Avenue business owners Charles Cina and Ciro LaCorte have been among those clamoring to dissolve the association, even circulating petitions among property owners.
"We can't afford to pay anymore. We're small businesses," said Cina, who owns Bona Pizza.
SanFilippo's audit was critical of the management group.
"I have come to the conclusion that [the association] is no longer a viable entity as it is currently structured," SanFilippo told lawmakers in a memo. "The association does not currently have an active board of directors and is operated solely by the board president."
Chief Auditor Darryl McPherson said analysts found no evidence of wrongdoing. But he said it was clear the entity is no longer functioning the way it should. McPherson met Tuesday with the Council's Finance Committee, where he noted that the association's contract with the city expired last December. What's more, some vendors that provided services to the district have yet to be paid by the entity.
Association Board President Robert Cohen acknowledged that several vendors remain unpaid, but he blamed the city for withholding fees it collected from businesses on behalf of the association. Cohen, who owns United Men's Fashion, has headed the group since its inception. While he acknowledged that interest in the group among businesses has waned in recent years, he thinks the entity has helped the commercial strip. He disputed claims that services have been shoddy.
"Our district looks good compared to other districts," Cohen said.