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Should Erie County own a Buffalo Bills practice field?

The Buffalo Bills bought three acres of property where the team wants to construct an outdoor practice field. But the team doesn't want to pay taxes on the land.

Instead, the football club wants the property rolled into the 197-acre stadium complex already owned by Erie County, which includes New Era Field, the Bills' Field House and other practice facilities.

Erie County legislators disagree on whether Erie County should own any more property for the Bills.

"You're taking three acres of property off the tax rolls and giving the Buffalo Bills another tax break," said Legislature Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca. "The point isn't the dollar amount. It's the principle. We shouldn't be giving additional tax breaks to NFL teams."

Republican Chairman John J. Mills, in whose district the Bills complex resides, disagrees.

He said Wednesday that in light of the multimillion-dollar investment the Bills are planning on making to the property, it only makes sense for Erie County to take ownership of what is likely to be a major community asset. He also praised the Pegula family for being outstanding partners in the revitalization of Erie County and said the county shouldn't "nickel and dime" them.

"The bottom line is, they've invested a ton of money into Erie County, and I think they've been a good partner to us developing the waterfront," he said. "Why put a stick in their eye? We're all working together."

Lorigo has been the most vocal in questioning why the billion-dollar team should avoid paying property taxes on the newly acquired land.

The team said its investment in the practice field – not the taxes – should be the focus.

The Bills are preparing to spend $4.5 million to build the practice field, according to a team statement. That work would be done by local contractors.

The Bills currently have one outdoor practice field. The team purchased property south of the Field House and adjacent to the existing outdoor practice field so it can build a second one, according to the team. Other NFL teams typically have more than one outdoor practice field. The Bills plan to use the second practice field throughout the spring, summer and fall practice sessions.

Property taxes on the three-acre parcel amount to approximately $1,600 a year, according to the county's Department of Real Property Services. The team said the county's share of property taxes amounts to only $211 a year.

With improvements to the property, the tax would be higher.

Lorigo suggested the property transfer would increase county liabilities.

Given the primary function of the practice field, the county would assume no additional liability in the transaction, the team said.

The additional practice field sought by the Bills would realign Regional Drive so that it winds around the new field. The Bills would pay for the construction of the new field, while the county would pay for the realignment as part of its annual capital improvements allowance.

The Erie County Stadium Corporation, a subsidiary of Empire State Development, approved the lease modification last month.

The Erie County Department of Public Works last week asked the Legislature to approve the land transfer. Lorigo, chairman of the Economic Development Committee, tabled the request.

He said he expects the request to die in committee next week, meaning the full Legislature would take no action on the matter.

"If the Bills want to build new practice facility on land they already own, then let them go ahead and do it," he said.

Chairman Mills, however, said he has no intention of letting the matter die in committee.

"I feel very strongly about it," Mills said Wednesday. "I'm not going to sit here and allow something like that to happen."

Instead, he intends to separate out the matter from Lorigo's Economic Development Committee report in hopes of bringing the issue to a vote before the full Legislature at its regular session Thursday.

"I'm very concerned about the message we send to our taxpayers and to the Pegula family," Mills said.



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