Tonawanda News — Just a week before Election Day, City of Tonawanda candidates presented their platforms to voters Tuesday night at a debate hosted by the Tonawanda News and the Chamber of Commerce of the Tonawandas.
Mayoral, council and Erie County Legislature candidates faced off on issues such as the Little League Drive development, flooding problems, downtown development and Tonawanda Coke’s criminal actions.
With managing editor Eric Duvall serving as moderator, the 12 candidates offered a choice for voters, most notably on the proposed housing project contract — an issue that clearly broke along party lines.
The contract for the development, which has not yet been approved by the council, specifies a sale price of $192,000 for the 16.94 acres of land. Natale, the set purchaser, will pay for the infrastructure costs, valued at about $1.8 million, and at the developer’s request, the 53 homes will fall under the state’s condominium status. As a result, the homes will be assessed at about 65 percent of their construction value.
Put simply, homeowners whose properties cost $250,000 to buy will pay taxes as if the home was worth $162,500.
All the local Democratic candidates said they oppose the project as proposed. Although mayoral candidate Rick Davis said that he supported the development when he was on the council, he said Tuesday that he takes issue with the tax abatement.
“The original request for proposals indicated that the developer would bear the cost of the infrastructure ... and that a homeowners association was not preferred,” he said.
The Democratic council candidates — Paul Brunner in the First Ward, Jackie Smilinich in the Second Ward, Richard Slisz in the Third Ward and Jenna Koch in the Fourth Ward — all echoed his statements. Brunner said that the residents in the development who will receive a tax abatement will still receive many services from the city.
Slisz agreed with Brunner and said the project should be sent back out to bid, while Smilinich said she doesn’t think the city’s downtown area is in a position to attract home buyers to the property. Koch pointed out that the sale price is only a third of three assessments done in the 2000s. A more recent study done last year valued the land at $255,000.