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Lockport settles suits on commercial assessments City sets valuations through 2015; figures are higher than numbers on 2010 tax rolls

City officials, determined to solve the issue for years to come, have made a long series of out-of-court settlements on assessment challenges from commercial property owners this year.

In every case, the arrangements set the valuations of the properties through 2015.

The largest set of settlements so far was made with Granchelli Development and its associated companies, but other property owners have made similar deals.

"This wasn't political. There was justice behind all these numbers," City Assessor Joseph Macaluso said.

Michael J. Norris, deputy corporation counsel, who worked out the settlements for the city, said the new figures in every instance were higher than the assessments in force before the citywide reassessment in 2011.

"There's been no refunds given in any of these," Norris said.

For 19 downtown properties controlled by Elmer A. Granchelli, the total assessed valuation was set at just under $3.25 million, which is $170,000 more than the total for the same properties in 2010.

The 2011 tax roll had valued the 19 properties at a total of $4.58 million. Macaluso said those numbers were rolled back after more detailed appraisals were done.

The city has spent more than $10,000 so far with Girasole Appraisal of Niagara Falls, which dug deeper than the 2011 revaluation figures by KLW Group.

"KLW's [work] was built on a history of appraisals," Macaluso said. "The Board of Assessment Review just passed on their figures."

After receiving no change in figures from that board on Grievance Day last June, many of the city's commercial landlords filed lawsuits.

The primary exception was David L. Ulrich, who had sued the city the previous year.

The settlements Ulrich received set the standard for the blizzard of deals this year. Ulrich received a three-year fixed valuation for his downtown properties and did not receive a refund for previous taxes paid.

However, Macaluso acknowledged that the new figures presented to judges for approval this year often aren't much higher than the numbers used before revaluation.

"We had to build the refunds into the settlements, which is why we took it three years into the future," the assessor said.

Norris said there were other reasons behind the multiyear deals that set commercial properties at the same assessed valuation through 2015.

"For us, it provides stability for the taxpayers," he said. Companies will have a rough idea what their tax bills will be, although, of course, the Common Council, Board of Education and County Legislature will alter the rates.

"We can also avoid doing this every year," Norris added.

Macaluso said the settlement numbers made use of not only historical trends and exterior observations, as KLW's figures did, but also analysis of the financial performance of the commercial properties in question.

In the Granchelli cases, he said, "we had income and expense statements for every property."

Some of Granchelli's downtown properties are largely vacant, and many lack on-site parking.

"When you go through them, they were in disrepair, and then you take into account the parking situation," Macaluso said.

The upshot was a settlement such as the one for the F&M Building, a Granchelli-owned property at Main and Locust streets.

In 2010, before the citywide revaluation, the mostly vacant structure was carried on the tax rolls at $50,000.

Last year's reassessment boosted that to $154,100. Granchelli sued, and the settlement figure was $100,000, substantially lower than the 2011 number but still twice as high as the 2010 valuation.

The city made out well on Granchelli's Rite Aid Plaza at 50 East Ave. The city assessed it at $475,000 in 2010 and $998,600 in 2011. The settlement figure was $700,000.

On the other hand, the Lockview Plaza at 21 Main now is assessed at $475,000, which is only $25,000 more than it was before the 2011 revaluation. The lawsuit was brought after the city reassessed the property at $622,000.

The Niagara Frontier Plaza at 120 Main is now assessed at $82,000, a dramatic drop from the $342,900 on the 2011 tax roll and from the $255,000 figure on the 2010 roll.

"When you go in there, there were little wading pools, the roof was leaking so badly," Macaluso said. "The estimate to fix the roof was $600,000."

In a few cases, there was no reduction at all in the 2011 figure. A holding company called 5CR Limited Partnership, which owns the Clark Rigging property on Ohio Street, couldn't get the city to budge on one of the two parcels that make up that property. The city reassessed it at $72,000, and $72,000 it remains.

However, the city did agree to reduce the assessment on a neighboring parcel owned by 5CR from $351,300 to $315,500.

Granchelli also attempted to lower the assessments on his home and those of his children, but the city didn't give an inch on any of them.

Hydraulic Race Co., Upson Co., Briarwood Manor and Beautiful Vision, owner of a series of storefronts on West Main, all won settlements after suing the city over the 2011 assessments.

Other settlements were made with some attorneys who sued over the valuations of their downtown law offices and with owners of residential rental property such as SDK Villager, owner of the South Street Apartments, and Michael A. Dascoli, owner of Locust Gardens Estates.

Still left unsettled is a lawsuit brought by the owners of Lockport Professional Park, a collection of doctors' offices and other professional buildings.

Macaluso said he, Terry Girasole of the city's appraisal company and a representative from GAR Associates, an Amherst appraiser working for the Rochester investors who own the property, toured the 27 parcels May 3.

They are assessed now at a total of nearly $9.3 million. The lawsuit filed by the owners seeks to lower that total by $5.5 million.

Macaluso hopes the results of the inside visits and a look at the property's financial performance will lead to a settlement, perhaps before the city files the 2012 tax rolls July 1.