July 19, 2013
County vote set on city tax breaks
Downtown redevelopment program needs 2/3 majority from Legislature for OK
The Cortland County Legislature’s Budget and Finance Committee endorsed Thursday a tax abatement program for the city’s downtown area by a vote of 6-1.
Legislator Newell Willcox (R-Homer) cast the opposition vote.
The Legislature will now vote on the plan at its July 25 session. It would need a two-thirds vote to pass because the county’s Rules of Order dictate that any property tax exemption plan requires a two-thirds vote.
The city already passed the proposal, which would provide 12-year exemptions on the full value of property taxes for landowners who rehabilitate buildings in the downtown business district. Landowners would still have to pay taxes on the building at its value prior to the abatement program’s implementation.
After 12 years the full value of the properties would be gradually phased in over eight years until owners are paying 100 percent of the property taxes on the value of their buildings.
For property owners to get the fullest abatement, the county and school district would have to also opt into the abatement program.
The idea is to encourage renovation of buildings downtown and to draw people to live in the upper floors of these buildings that officials say would otherwise remain vacant and dilapidated.
But some county Legislators like Ray Parker (D-2nd Ward) and Tony Pace (D-7th Ward) have been hesitant to endorse the proposal, questioning the benefits of offering tax breaks at a time of fiscal constraint. Willcox said at the time of the vote that the city needs more sales tax revenue and the proposal does not directly result in that.
But Legislator Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville) said revenue will be generated downtown by renovating buildings and drawing people to businesses downtown as well as creating housing opportunities and new stores.
Parker and Pace said they would vote in favor of the proposal at the committee level to allow the debate to play out on the floor of the Legislature. Pace said he would like to see zoning changes made in the city to ensure only commercial and businesses take root in the first floors of buildings, rather than nonprofits or government offices.
Committee member Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville) pointed out that many buildings downtown have been dilapidated for years and would likely remain that way without a tax abatement program of this kind.
The county’s vote on the matter will be considered by the Board of Education, which has delayed voting on the law until after the county’s decision. The board plans to discuss the matter next month.
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