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Lockport would lose tax revenue if county wins building auction

LOCKPORT – If Niagara County succeeds in next week’s auction of three buildings in downtown Lockport, the city would lose $58,000 a year in property tax revenue, Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey told a County Legislature committee Thursday.

The bank that holds the mortgage on 50 and 111 Main St. and 20-40 East Ave. is holding an online auction Tuesday through Thursday of next week to unload the properties. The county currently leases office space in two of those buildings and formerly did so in the third.

The County Legislature last week authorized County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz to bid up to $2.4 million for the three buildings, which are being sold as a single auction lot. The county could go higher if need be.

The auction ends at 1 p.m. Thursday, and the Legislature has called a special meeting for 11 a.m. Thursday to monitor the online bidding and authorize higher bids if it wants to.

If someone else wins the buildings, the county’s leases are still good until they expire in 2018, County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said last week. However, the county has been toying with the idea of moving its offices elsewhere.

But if they remained in private hands, the financially strapped city wouldn’t lose the tax revenue.

If the county wins them, they become tax-exempt. The county itself would lose $87,000 in property tax revenue, but it wouldn’t have to pay the $3.1 million left on the leases for 20-40 East Ave., headquarters of the county Social Services Department, and 111 Main St., which houses several county departments and a motor vehicle office.

The former bank at 50 Main St. has been vacant since the Niagara County Community College Small Business Development Center moved out in late 2012.

The owner, 37 Holdings-Lockport LLC, a California company, was hit with a mortgage foreclosure suit from US Bank in December 2013. The suit was dropped last September, as 37 Holdings sold the properties to an Irving, Texas, firm, C-III Asset Management, for $6.97 million. C-III is auctioning the three buildings.

“We’d prefer that we not lose the tax revenue from those buildings,” McCaffrey said after she and Brian M. Smith, vice president of the city’s development agency, emerged from the meeting of the county’s space utilization committee.

“We have a very big decision to make and we know that would be a big loss for you,” committee chairman Randy R. Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, told McCaffrey before Assistant County Attorney R. Thomas Burgasser said the doors of the meeting room should be closed. They remained so for 100 minutes, although McCaffrey and Smith left after about half an hour.

At last week’s Legislature meeting, Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, said the county had spoken to the city about space in Harrison Place, the city-controlled former auto parts plant at Walnut and Washburn streets, as a potential home for county offices.

If that’s what happened Thursday, McCaffrey wouldn’t confirm it, because the discussion came in a closed session.

“We’re considering all our options before we make a decision,” Bradt said.