I have to hand it to City Hall. Buffalo is the first city whose recovery plan includes massive tax breaks to wealthy waterfront condo buyers.
In an assault on logic and a face-slap to taxpayers, Buffalo is handing a 10-year tax break to owners of new waterfront condos selling for upwards of $600,000. An average tax saving of $100,000 for each of 63 owners means there is $6 million that should be coming City Hall's way but won't.
There are cities where $6 million is pocket change, but Buffalo is not among them.
The laughable irony is the city last week claimed it no longer needed its financial nanny. Mayor Byron Brown made a pitch to thaw the city worker wage freeze and have the financial control board fade away. Handing tax breaks to the wealthiest -- while depriving the city bankroll of millions of dollars -- is a strange way to make a case for self-sufficiency.
Recent events show that the city needs not just a financial nanny, but a crossing guard and a private tutor.
A report last week said the city's inspections department is a mess. The city needs more building inspectors but cannot afford to hire more. Yet it turns its back on $6 million.
The once-glorious downtown Vernor Building was recently demolished. It was a victim partly of the city's longtime failure to craft a preservation plan or to coordinate its inspections and planning departments. Brown's people say they don't have the money. Yet the city hands a $6 million "No Tax" card to waterfront condo buyers.
Neighborhoods are on life support. Yet City Hall uses the Empire Zone program -- created to prop up or lure business to staggering neighborhoods -- to divert tax breaks to prime waterfront property.
After 12 years of Tony "What, Me Worry?" Masiello, Brown was supposed to bring accountability. There is a word for turning your back on $6 million of tax dollars, but it is not "accountability."
"This is not a marginal neighborhood where you're trying to induce people to buy [with tax breaks]," said community development attorney Steven Polowitz. "How do you reconcile giving away the store for high-end condos in a coveted area?"
The insult extends beyond city taxpayers. More than a third of the city's budget comes from Albany. That means folks from Amherst to Amityville prop up poor Buffalo with state tax dollars. They have a stake in the city getting its act together. Instead, it presents a tax-free condo farce.
Although the Waterfront Place condo wheel started turning under Masiello, it kept rolling under Brown. He could have said no to the tax breaks. Instead, city planning director Tim Wanamaker defended the breaks as "a way to get these projects off the ground."
Translation: The sooner the condos are built, the sooner the mayor basks in the glow of new development.
It's not like they're not selling. They have been snatched up as quickly as they were built since the Jimmy Griffin era.
The tax giveaway ensures quick development, fast sales and padded profits for developer Carl Paladino -- who can charge more than if the units were fully taxed.
Paladino was the driving force in taking down the city's two Niagara Thruway toll barriers. Erasing the tolls kept money in our pockets. The tax-free condo deal keeps $6 million out of the city's bankbook. What Carl saveth, Carl now taketh away.
But I don't blame the developer who profits from the folly. I blame the city that allows it.
Brown claims City Hall is ready to stand on its own. Deals like this are an argument for changing the locks and doubling the guard.