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Request for tax forgiveness on One Niagara is rejected

A Niagara County Legislature committee rejected requests for tax forgiveness on Niagara Falls' One Niagara Building, but the whole issue is likely to end up in court.

The Administration Committee voted down One Niagara LLC's requests for partial forgiveness of its unpaid county property taxes for 2006 through 2009.

The full Legislature is to vote on the matter Sept. 6, but One Niagara filed suit Aug. 12 in State Supreme Court, looking for reductions in all its taxes -- city, county and school -- during the same four years.

John Shoemaker, county real property tax director, said One Niagara hasn't paid a penny of property tax to anyone since 2005.

The city is currently seeking to place the nine-story Rainbow Boulevard "flash cube" on its tax foreclosure auction list, but that issue is tied up in court, too.

So is the issue of how much the building's assessed valuation should be.

From 2005, the city assessed it at $4,665,000. In 2009, the city Board of Assessment Review trimmed the figure to $4 million. On this year's preliminary tax roll, Assessor James Bird set the building's value at $3.5 million, which the review board reduced to $3 million.

In July, One Niagara went to court over the assessment, claiming it should be $1 million, an argument it made in past lawsuits.

State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III has the assessment case scheduled for a pretrial conference Nov. 10. The tax forgiveness case has yet to be scheduled.

One Niagara asserts in its court papers that the city is overassessing the building because it won't let most of it be used. A certificate of occupancy is in hand only for the first floor of the nine-story building.

One Niagara, which was acquired by Paul A. Grenga from Frank Parlato Jr. in 2010, had a court order that allowed it to operate an observation deck on the top floor in 2009 and 2010, but that order was overturned on appeal, and the top floor has been closed since last fall.

Shoemaker recommended rejection of One Niagara's requests for cuts in its county tax liability for 2009 because he disagreed with the company's assertion that the city's refusal to allow use of eight floors of the building makes the assessment erroneous.

He and Assistant County Attorney R. Joseph Foltz said the requests for forgiveness on county taxes from 2006 through 2008 ran afoul of a three-year statute of limitations.

"The statute's very clear. They waited too long," Foltz said.