Moving Busti Town Offices Would Be A Mistake

For years the historic area of the village of Lakewood has struggled to revive Chautauqua Avenue.

There is a new threat that would remove 12,000 square feet of retail and warehouse space from potential use by a business and essentially put a stranglehold on local business. With property taxes at 2.58 percent, Chautauqua County is in the top ten highest property tax rates in New York state. Why then, would a town government intentionally remove more property from the tax roll and stop a potential business from opening? The simple economics are that you either have to expand your tax base or all taxpayers pay more. As a local resident, homeowner and small business owner I am against higher taxes and the town of Busti expanding their footprint.

This letter will lay out the arguments against the town of Busti moving their offices from the current location at 121 Chautauqua Ave., Lakewood NY 14750, to the location next to them at 125 and 127 Chautauqua Ave. (previously Tordella’s). The move would remove 12,000 square feet of retail and warehouse spaces from private sector use and moreover kill any possibility of job creation or generating tax revenue. For example, a business generating $2 million in gross sales would generate $150,000 in sales tax revenue; in addition to creating or keeping several jobs, which the county desperately needs. The alternative of Busti taking over the property removes it from tax rolls and does not create any new jobs.

Currently Busti occupies a bank at 121 Chautauqua Ave., approximately 2,500 square feet. They plan to take over the old Tordella building (12,000 square feet) to consolidate their offices, town court and recreational center.

The argument Supervisor Jessie Robbins is applying is the fact that they can sell the bank, move into the new property without taking out a loan or spend additional taxpayer dollars. There are some issues with this plan; the first being that Jessie Robbins has not brought any hard numbers on paper. Thus far, everything has been stated in ‘approximately’ or ‘roughly’ phrases and nothing with discrete numbers has been put in print.

According to the public meeting on January 21, 2014, the town of Busti could sell the building at 121 Chautauqua for $300,000. The purchase price of the old Tordella building was estimated at $300,000 to $340,000 plus another $100,000 for remodeling. This estimate was to retrofit the existing property for ADA compliance, a town court, recreational hall, town offices, kitchen for the recreational hall and public bathrooms. They did not give or have an estimate for demolishing the current Busti recreational center on Summit Ave. Nor have they ever presented in writing actual estimates for the move and remodel.

The town residents that came to the meeting were informed that moving into the Lakewood Village Hall was not an option due to the price of renovations. One Lakewood Village Board of Trustees member I spoke to said it would cost roughly $600,000 for a complete renovation to make it suitable for both Busti and Lakewood to co-exist under one roof. Many of these renovations are or will be necessary even if Busti did not relocate to the Lakewood Village Hall; they could share the cost and benefits. Additionally, there are grants available for towns and villages that are working to consolidate for greater efficiency. What can’t be estimated in dollars is the intrinsic value of having both the town and village under one roof.

I am hopeful that Busti and Lakewood residents will come to the public meeting to discuss this project, it is scheduled for February 18 at 6:45 p.m.

Samuel Whitmore is a Lakewood resident.