A Real Conversation About Your Taxes.

A Real Conversation About Taxes

 Guest View by Seth Piccirillo

 Q: What happens when you fix your house up? 

A: My taxes go up.

Q: What happens when the blighted absentee-owned rental property across the street finally falls over or burns down?

A: Its tax bill is reduced dramatically.

Q: So why does the city overtax work and investment, and reward blight?

A: Because that’s the way it’s always been.

Root of the Problem:The City of Niagara Falls’ two-tier tax system penalizes responsible home and small business owners while rewarding land speculators and slumlords. Every time a building is demolished for tax purposes, we all pay more. Every slumlord property in our neighborhood makes it harder for our own houses to get lending or insurance. Two generations of leadership have failed to address the problem. Simply put, our tax structure punishes exactly the kind of behavior it should be trying to reward.      

Personal Experience:My family is paying more in property taxes for our 1,500 square-foot in LaSalle than a Manhattan based millionaire is for a downtown development parcel. If we put an addition on our house, it will cost us even more in taxes. At the same time, we are all forced to drive by empty or neglected properties, owned by “developers” that spend more time challenging their assessments than actually developing their properties. The status quo works just fine for them.    

A Real Answer:As Mayor, I would propose switching from a two-tier (homestead/non-homestead) tax rate to a land value tax. By taxing parcels based on the value of the land under our homes instead of the value of our buildings, we can actually lower city property taxes for home owners and small businesses while keeping tax revenues steady and encouraging responsible economic development over speculation. Surrounding property values increase when our neighbors invest in their houses. We all win when businesses, who are responsible for an unfair share of the current tax burden, stay open and expand.  

 A Land Value Tax can also make harder to for land speculators to hold valuable properties hostage for decades. This has not been welcomed news for speculators/slumlords and the politicians that count on their support. Good, that’s the point.

Proven Success:Land value tax is not a brand-new idea and it has been successful in cities like Allentown and Harrisburg. Niagara Falls even considered it in 1997. In Harrisburg, over 90% of the property owners saved money after the city switched to a tax that values land more than buildings. In Allentown, 70% of residential parcels saw a tax decrease. Tax burdens on productive work and business declined. In both cities, the “losers” in this tax reform are absentee owners of vacant lots, who had to shoulder more of the burden.

Niagara Falls is smaller than both Allentown and Harrisburg. We host a natural wonder of the world, which is the reason land speculators flock here. Reforming our tax structure will make it less expensive to create a life or business, while sending a clear message; we are no longer an easy target for absentee ownership. We also know that a traditional reassessment is not the answer and divides the community. Let’s learn from our history and find a better, proven way. 

A Welcomed Challenge:Creation of a land value tax would require all level of government working together with residents and the business community. Changing local tax structure needs to be approved by New York State. Public meetings would be organized to fully explain the strategy, in dollars and cents. The city’s traditional ways of thinking about taxes would be challenged. This is an exciting opportunity that will save our residents money and improve neighborhood quality of life. At the end of the day, that’s the true purpose of local government. 

New ideas can bring people together. Any politician that talks to you about cutting taxes without creative thinking, either does not have a plan or does not fully grasp the problem. As citizens, we should ask any candidate for public office how they will reduce your taxes and stop speculation, beyond the old school political niceties that have failed us for decades. We have presented land value tax since day one of this campaign, because we are looking beyond slogans for real solutions. 

A new generation of leadership is ready to put in the work it takes to make Niagara Falls proud, and to move us beyond a past we can't afford to repeat. But this level of change is impossible without the support of our community behind it. 

Seth Piccirillo