Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

February 20, 2013

OUR VIEW: Don't tax to fund Flight of 5

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — It’s shaping up to be a busy construction season in downtown Lockport. Our front page story in Sunday’s edition highlighted nearly one dozen projects that will begin this year — all but two are confirmed — at a cost of $25 million in public and private financing.

City officials say that the positive vibe is drawing the attention of other businesses, who see Lockport as a place on the rise. What’s happening now is the result of “years and years of work,” as R. Charles Bell, the city’s planning director said.

A new ice arena. Small and growing businesses. A relocating manufacturing firm. Flight of Five restoration. Truly, there seems to be a construction boom downtown. However, the years of hard work could be all for naught if an idea of a heritage district tax is enacted.

A heritage district tax would require all commercial and residential property owners within its roughly six-block area to pay a special tax to help pay for Flight of Five operation — projected to cost $100,000 per year — after it’s restored. This could be devastating for businesses within the district.

Small businesses aren’t known for large bottom lines. In fact, many small business owners struggle on a year-to-year basis, barely showing a profit. An added tax — even a small one – could make the difference in staying open or closing. Bad news tends to spread faster than good news, so the latter option is clearly not a desirable one for downtown.

At this point, there aren’t enough businesses moving into the city to even consider a tax. For that matter, with a shrinking population, a blanket tax (read: general fund) to support the Flight of Five isn’t a wise option either, not with rising taxes and falling home values still the norm.

Restoration of the Flight of Five — an engineering marvel in its day — is a fantastic endeavor, but it should not be done with city business and home owners shouldering the cost. The city must find a private investor to make it work.