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Legislature candidates want town to obtain more Fashion Outlets sales tax

TOWN OF NIAGARA – The contenders for the 5th District seat in the Niagara County Legislature both say that something should be done to bring a larger share of the sales tax generated by the Fashion Outlets Mall to the town.

Thursday, Democratic incumbent Jason A. Zona issued a news release announcing that he will meet with the Town Board at an Aug. 15 work session to discuss ways of accomplishing that goal.

The announcement came on the heels of a news release last weekend from his opponent, former Legislator Giulio G. Colangelo, urging the county and state legislatures to make whatever changes are needed in current law to increase the town’s sales tax take.

The issue flared up because the mall is planning a major expansion and is seeking a property tax break for it. Supervisor Steven C. Richards, a Republican, said the environmental review process is continuing, and the town Industrial Development Agency may be able to vote on the tax package for the mall in September.

Zona said, “Steve Richards and I have been working on this for six months.” Zona said he has also conferred with County Treasurer Kyle R. Andrews, D-Wilson, on options that would accomplish the change.

Richards said, “I look forward to hearing about his plan at our Aug. 15 meeting. I haven’t talked to Giulio about it.”

Colangelo said, “I sent out a robocall [Thursday] informing people in the Town of Niagara that I will work diligently to get them more sales tax revenue.” Colangelo is an Independence Party member endorsed by the Republicans.

Colangelo said he doesn’t have a specific plan worked out, but the fair thing to do is to increase the town’s share.

“It is obvious the residents of the Town of Niagara have built the infrastructure that supports the Fashion Outlets, while absorbing favorable tax arrangements that have benefitted the Outlets,” Colangelo said.

Zona said, “Already-strapped local governments unfortunately are left bearing the costs of public safety and infrastructure needs when projects like the [Fashion] Outlets and Military Road business district expansion occur.”

“That mall puts a strain on our services,” Richards said. “What would it cost the county if we couldn’t afford our police department anymore?”

He said any extra sales tax revenue would be applied to public safety.

The sales tax in Niagara County is 8 percent: 4 percent each for the county and the state. The county keeps 1 percentage point to partially fund the local share of Medicaid.

The cities of Niagara Falls and Lockport pre-empt the entire 4 percent local share of sales tax on hotel, restaurant and utility bills, but Zona said current laws don’t allow towns to pre-empt sales tax.

After pre-emption and Medicaid are funded, the county keeps 47 percent of what’s left for itself, plus 1.6 percent for the enhanced 911 system. The remaining 51.4 percent of the revenue is divided up among the towns and cities based on their populations. It doesn’t matter where in the county the sales were made.

Andrews said the Town of Niagara, with a population of 8,378, has only 3.87 percent of the county’s population, a share that dropped after the 2010 census. It receives that percentage of the money the county makes available to share.

The Town of Niagara received slightly over $2 million in sales tax money in 2012, and just over $1 million in the first half of this year, Andrews said.

Andrews said he doesn’t know exactly how much sales tax revenue the Outlets produce. His report from the state is broken down by individual stores, but the state requires the information be kept secret so no one can figure out the amount of sales by any merchant.