By Tony Farina, The Niagara Falls Reporter
It was not long ago that Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz urged the Amherst IDA to reject a law firm’s request for $550,000 in tax breaks for a proposed $4 million office expansion.
“Lawyer’s offices should not get tax breaks,” Poloncarz told the IDA even though 20 new jobs were being proposed as part of the expansion plan, a request the law firm later dropped.
And two years ago Poloncarz objected to tax breaks on a proposed $100 million building on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, suggesting a glorified medical office building was not worthy of taxpayer help. Proponents were shocked by the criticism from the county executive to what they called a critical piece to the growth of the medical campus.
But while Poloncarz was billing himself as a taxpayer watchdog, in 2012 he made a pretty good real estate investment for himself with a very favorable assessment, purchasing what was described by realtors as a “classic four bedroom home with gorgeous refinished woodwork on the first floor with oak paneled walls in the dining room.”
The property, at 1500 Delaware Ave. in the city of Buffalo, was purchased by Poloncarz for $207,500 in July of 2012 while it was assessed at $157,000, some $50,000 under the purchase price and with an estimated value now by Zillow.com of at least $267,505. It is still assessed at $157,000.
We asked the county executive’s office about the under-assessment, and his spokesman, Peter Anderson, responded in an email “the property is assessed (by the City of Buffalo) at the proper amount; it was purchased in 2012 and reassessed in 2013.”
Anderson is right about the city doing the assessment but he is wrong about a reassessment last year. It did not happen and a citywide revaluation is under way and won’t be completed until December of 2016. Anderson didn’t respond when I sent an email pointing out his misstatement on the reassessment.
“We’re in the process of a complete revaluation now,” said Martin Kennedy, city commissioner of assessments, who confirmed no reassessment was done last year. I asked him about the low assessment for Poloncarz and he said it represents “fair value,” but also admitted, under questioning, that property values have increased, and that’s why the city is doing the revaluation.
Kennedy grudgingly conceded that property like 1500 Delaware, where similar nearby homes are for sale for as much as $349,000, is an example of why the city needs to get busy on its reassessment program.
But in the meantime, Poloncarz is saving about $1,200 a year on city and county property taxes (since 2012) from what he could be paying if the house were assessed at the $207,500 purchase price. The taxpayer watchdog is making out quite nicely, owning a property that appears to be as much as $110,505 under assessed—or put another way, being taxed on an assessed valuation of 58.7 percent of its actual or real valuation now.
It also appears Poloncarz is not exactly broadcasting his assessment as there is no figure included for 1500 Delaware under the category “Real Estate” on his county financial disclosure form.
In fact, the disclosure form has several letters to select from to insert under the title “Category Amount” when it comes to property, with the letter “F” used for property of more than $100,000 value. There is no letter under that category in Poloncarz’s disclosure form and it even appears as if something about letter size has been whited out on the form.
I sent an email to Poloncarz’s spokesman about the apparent white out on the ethics form and received no response.
The only gifts listed on the county executive’s ethics form is a “Gameball with name on it,” from the Buffalo Bills. It is listed under the gift category for gifts which do not exceed $75 in value.
In the meantime, the earliest possible date when Poloncarz could face a property tax increase is July of 2017 after the city’s current revaluation is completed. Pretty good investment for the taxpayer watchdog and you would never have any idea of the property value from his ethics statement which is supposed to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the officeholder’s financial investments. Maybe just an oversight, but the apparent white out is hard to overlook.