LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature voted along party lines Tuesday to hold a public hearing Sept. 16 on a property tax break for “green” homes that save enough energy to qualify for a national environmental design standard.
However, the outlines of the debate were apparent Tuesday.
Charles Eisenmann of Amherst said he has purchased overgrown land on Tonawanda Creek Road in the Town of Lockport, where he plans to build a home that will meet LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – or similar standards the county finds acceptable.
Eisenmann plans a home that will use 60 percent to 70 percent less electricity than a normal home. He said, “We’re returning a property to the tax rolls at an assessment well above the median.”
He expects his 2,000- to 2,200-square-foot home will be assessed at about $350,000.
A LEED tax exemption, authorized by state law, allows a three-year, 100 percent tax exemption for buildings with silver certification, with gradually increasing taxes for four years thereafter. A gold certification extends the exemption by one year and a platinum exemption for 10 years.
Eisenmann urged the passage of the LEED tax exemption, sponsored by Legislator Michael A. Hill, R-Hartland, and opposed by all four Niagara Falls Democrats.
Edwina Luksch of Newfane followed Eisenmann to the lectern and spoke strongly against the idea. She said ordinary taxpayers can’t hope to qualify for such a tax break because of the expense of building a green home.
She said such homeowners “will use Niagara County services and not be paying taxes for them.”
Luksch said, “This Legislature should be looking for additional revenue, not adding more burdens to the taxpayers.”
Eisenmann said he will build his home even if the county doesn’t give him the exemption, but he will probably scale it back.
Only buildings constructed after the adoption of the tax break are eligible. Eisenmann said he expects to break ground in late October.
On another topic, the Legislature passed a resolution urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to block the International Joint Commission’s “Plan 2014” regulating water levels in Lake Ontario.
Legislator David E. Godfrey, R-Wilson, and Orleans County Legislator Lynn Johnson said the plan, which allows maximum water levels to go higher and minimum water levels to go lower, would cause more erosion all along the south shore of the lake.
“This will affect every taxpayer in both counties,” Godfrey said. “If you’re losing property values because of erosion, who’s going to make up for that?”
Also Tuesday, the Legislature passed hydropower allocations from the county’s Empower Niagara program to Cornerstone Arena in Lockport and Russell Farms in Newfane.
The 400 kilowatts granted to the arena, a twin-rink ice complex that will open next month, will account for almost half of its electricity needs, said city planning and development director R. Charles Bell, vice chairman of the not-for-profit rink group.
The first of the two rinks is to open Sept. 15, with the other about two weeks later, Bell said.
Russell Farms was granted 200 kilowatts to be used in a planned new $3.32 million controlled atmosphere storage building for locally grown apples.
The Legislature also created a three-member committee to update the county’s code of ethics, last revised in 2007. County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said the code doesn’t apply to the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, which he said was created by state law, even though the County Legislature chooses its members.
“We have every right to make sure we have ethical people on there,” protested Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls. He will serve on the committee along with Legislator W. Keith McNall, R-Lockport, and Joerg or his designee.
A $234,000 addition to a consulting contract on repairs to the Refuse Disposal District landfills was tabled. Legislator Mark A. Grozio complained that possible state fines for leaks at the landfill weren’t reported to legislators.