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Common Council Report

If you blinked, you missed this week’s return to regular sessions

In the first meeting after August recess, Buffalo’s Common Council was clearly eager to get the meeting over with. After presenting Buffalo firefighters with proclamations honoring their two colleagues killed last week, the Council zoomed through the day’s agenda. The longest discussion given to any item was barely five minutes on a resolution sponsored by University Councilmember Bonnie Russell.

Don't let anyone tell you Bonnie J. Russell doesn't love America.

Councilmembers voted unanimously in favor of the resolution, which opens a discussion between the Council and city tax officials regarding giving tax breaks to businesses making property improvements. Russell seeks to reform city tax code to encourage new businesses to settle in the city while nurturing those who wish to make enhancements on existing ones. “When businesses make improvements, it’s unfair” for them to pay higher taxes, says Russell.

The resolution reads: “Business owners who invest significant funds to remodel, reconstruct or improve their properties often see their assessments increase as a result of these efforts, which has led many business owners to feel as if they are being penalized for doing something that not only improves their property, but also positively impacts their surrounding neighborhood and community.”

Russell referenced family-owned Budwey’s grocery store and the new ice cream parlor, Grumpy’s, on Hertel Avenue near Shoshone Park, as positive examples of newly opened businesses that deserve a tax break.

Russell’s resolution resonated with Jon Welch, owner of Talking Leaves Books on Main Street in the University District. The bookstore is a staple business in the neighborhood and has seen a lot come and go around it, but Welch says he’s always in support of ways to develop and nurture local businesses. “I’m in favor of anything that helps to improve neighborhood business, particularly trying to keep them as local and independent as possible,” says Welch. “If tax breaks are the way that works, give them to small, local independent businesses.”

There is a current state law—half of which has already been adopted into city law—that gives tax exemptions for converting non-residential property into a mixed-use development. The Council is hoping the other half of that law, which would give tax breaks to businesses who make property improvements, could be adopted for the city charter as well.

—ellen przepasniak

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