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Niagara IDA rejects tax breaks for Ransomville car dealer

WHEATFIELD – The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency board Wednesday shot down a request for a property tax and sales tax break to expand a car dealership.

Keith Lucas, co-owner of Ki-Po Chevrolet in Ransomville, said that his project could still go forward without the tax breaks but that it might have to be scaled back.

The new state IDA law bars assistance to retail projects, with certain exceptions. IDA attorney Mark J. Gabriele used one of those exceptions to get Ki-Po on the agenda – the “unique goods or services” clause, on grounds that Ki-Po is the only car dealer in Ransomville.

“There’s a lot of communities in Niagara County that don’t have a car dealership,” said Stephen F. Brady, an IDA member and a corporate communications representative for National Grid. “In my mind, it didn’t rise to the level of needing public support.”

He and Michael W. McNally, business manager for Local 22, Plumbers & Steamfitters, voted no. Three of the nine IDA board members missed the meeting. With only four of the six who showed up voting for Ki-Po, the request failed because five votes are needed for approval. Gabriele said that Ki-Po could try again but that it would have to make some substantial change in its project to obtain another hearing.

Ki-Po sought a 15-year tax break on its $1.8 million expansion, which it drew up after General Motors advised the dealership, formerly known as Bob Krueger Chevrolet, to move or expand. Not doing so would risk the withdrawal of the Chevy franchise, the dealership said when it applied to the IDA.

The IDA board voted on a 10-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, arrangement, not the 15-year version that deviated from the agency’s usual policy.

“We’ll probably have to go to a plan B that we don’t have in place, because General Motors is forcing our hand,” Lucas said by telephone after the meeting. “We probably could [do the project], it’s just a question of whether it’s worth it or not.”

He said the expansion – a 5,000-square-foot building addition, mostly for an expanded service department, and two acres of parking lots – called for more investment in the property than the real estate is worth.

Porter Supervisor Merton K. Wiepert had spoken at the IDA’s public hearing April 3 in favor of the 15-year PILOT.

“The building is old and obsolete, and this gives it room for expansion,” Wiepert said at the hearing. “I’ve already heard that if they’re going to do some updating of the face of the building, some of the other stores will do the same thing; they’ll update.”

“I hate to do anything to the Town of Porter. They were very supportive of the project. They realize what our worth is to the community,” Lucas said. “At this point, everything’s a possibility. We have to look at all the options.”

Ki-Po employs 24 people in Ransomville and would have created eight new jobs with the expansion. The tax benefits would have saved Ki-Po an estimated $143,000 over 15 years or $112,000 over 10 years, the IDA staff calculated.