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Niagara GOP, Conservatives Attack Zona, But Flier on Tax Assessment Is Not True

By Frank Parlato

How come they don't use this picture of Zona in their mailer?

After falsely alleging voter fraud against 5th District County Legislator Jason Zona whose district includes the Town of Niagara and the Deveaux section of Niagara Falls, the Niagara County GOP and its Conservative Party subsidiary have gone after Zona again.

This time the attack is aimed at the tax assessment of Zona's home.

Their favorite target, Zona, a Democrat, has consistently exposed Republican sweetheart deals in the Niagara County Legislature and naturally Republicans, who control the legislature, 12- 3, want him out.

Their latest charge against Zona, if it wasn't campaign season, is laughably stupid; a witless lie.

But that did not stop the GOP, or its wholly-owned subsidiary, the Niagara County Conservative Party, led by Dan Weiss, to put out a mailer alleging a most easily provable lie.

What's worse, what these dummies allege against Zona is equally true of their own candidate, Giulio G. Colangelo, a member of the Independence Party, who is running with Republican and Conservative backing.

So stupid and dishonest was the mailer that even Colangelo, for whom it was done to benefit, repudiated this flier- which in fact costs thousands in postage and printing.

But let's examine the text of the mailer:

It shows, of course, the favorite picture of Zona, the one they use every time they want to lie about him; the one where he is wearing sunglasses.

The text of the GOP/Conservative Party mailer reads:

"The process is simple in Niagara Falls. You buy a house and you get assessed at 92 percent of the purchase price and that's what your property taxes are based on.

"At least that's how it works for everyone but County Legislator Jason Zona. "Zona purchased a house in Deveaux in 2012 for $190,000 (source: Niagara County Clerk's Office). Based on the formula he should be assessed today at $176,640. But Jason Zona's political friends in City Hall have him assessed at only $138,000. Jason Zona's home is getting a $40,000 break in his assessment.

"That means Zona is getting a significant- and unfair- break on his property taxes. What's even worse is that every other taxpayer has to pay more because of it!"

If it were true, it would be bad; bad indeed.

The problem is it is not true; it is fundamentally, demonstrably untrue.

"The process is simple in Niagara Falls?" they say.

"You buy a house and you get assessed at 92 percent of the purchase price and that's what your property taxes are based on,” they say.

"At least that's how it works for everyone but County Legislator Jason Zona,” according to the text.

But, no, actually, that's not how it works...

According to someone who would know, Niagara Falls City Assessor, James R. Bird, it does not work this way. Bird told the Reporter that no city in New York State is allowed legally to raise an assessment of an individual property based on a recent sale price, unless it is done for all properties in the municipality.

This is called a revaluation.

"It is illegal. It's actually unconstitutional to raise one person's assessment without doing the whole city," Bird said. "That's the law. The only time anyone's assessment will be raised is when the whole city is done. The last reassessment was in 2006."

What about Zona?

He looked it up. Zona purchased his house in 2012. The assessment then, as it is now, was $138,000.

Bird confirmed that Zona didn't get any break. He paid exactly what any other taxpayer would pay. Zona's friends, whoever they are, in City Hall, had nothing to do with the city assessing the property at $138,000 in 2006, six years before Zona bought it.

The assessment on Zona's property, like every other of the 23,000 properties in Niagara Falls, was set the last time there was a revaluation- in 2006.

Bird pointed out that while it is true that the citywide revaluation would raise Zona' assessment, it would not necessarily raise his taxes. "About one third go up, about third stay the same and about a third go down," if the tax levy stays about the same.

Presently the equalization rate is 92 percent - as of 2006.

New York does not mandate a reassessment, but only that everybody is reassessed at the same time. So no, nobody is paying more taxes because of Zona.

No one is paying one penny more or less than what they would be paying, based, again, on the 2006 city wide reassessment.

What makes the GOP, and its puppet Conservative Party, look so stupid is that the candidate they support against Zona, Colangelo, has a similar set of circumstances. Colangelo bought his house in 2010, also in Deveaux.

He paid $143,500. It is assessed for $110,000. Colangelo is paying taxes on an assessment that is $33,000 less than what he paid for it.

Of course, Colangelo did nothing wrong. His assessment, like Zona's is based on the 2006 assessment. Like Zona, it does not go up just because Colangelo paid more.

When asked if he agreed with the premises of the mailer, Colangelo said, "I had no knowledge of the flier. I had nothing to do with that flier. I was very upset by the mailer. It looks like I had something to do with it but I had nothing to do with it. As far as the validity of the flier, the information is inaccurate."

Shouldn't your supporters have known better?

"Yes," he said emphatically. "They should have researched the facts before they put anything in print. Based on the flier, I was angry, right from the start."

Is there anything true in the flier?

"No. Jason does not get special treatment with his assessment. That is not true. We are both subject to comparable rates."

Asked if he has confronted the people who sent it out, Colangelo, who was in Dallas attending a wedding where he was best man, said he has not spoken to them yet. "But I will say this [to them]: It is not how I operate. I want to win a fair and honest race and that this is basically uncalled for ... that's not how I want to win. They didn't have all the facts. The mailer is incorrect. I absolutely repudiate the mailer."

The mailer was paid for and sent, as is marked on it, by the Niagara County Conservative Party. Its chairman is Dan Weiss, who is, coincidentally, the son of Patti Weiss, a member of the Niagara County Republican Executive Committee. Readers may recall that Patti Weiss was the woman behind the false accusations of voter fraud against Zona that were cleared up just last week by the Niagara County sheriff.

The Reporter contacted Patti's son, Dan Weiss, and asked if he was familiar with the mailer. He said he was.

"It was mailed by the Niagara County Conservative Party," Weiss confirmed.

Asked what his comment was to the statement the city assessor made that Zona, Colangelo or anyone else's property is not raised or kept low based on individual sale price.

"I don't have any comment on Mr. Zona and his property assessment," Weiss said.

Your mailer however says that Zona used his political influence to pay lower taxes. Do you believe that?

"The information is there. I don't need to comment further on it."

Were you aware of the fact that properties were revaluated in 2006, and that none go up or down based on sale price as your party's mailer suggests happened in the case of Mr. Zona?

"I don't have information in front of me to otherwise say so. You're entitled to your opinion also," Weiss responded..

It is not my opinion. The assessor said assessments only go up or down when the whole city is revalued. Do you have a comment on that?

" I understand what you are saying, Weiss said. "I don't have any comment to make."

He was asked if he knew that Colangelo's home was similar to Zona in that Colangelo bought a property three years ago and his property assessment has not changed, either.

"I think it is a situation where everyone is able to form their own opinion on it. I don't need to comment further on it," Weiss said.

Would you care to comment on the fact of whether you are aware of the fact that the mailer is untrue?

"No, I don't have any comment to make other than that."

The Reporter contacted Zona to ask him what he thought of being accused of having influence on his assessment, and what both Colangelo and Weiss said of it.

"That is a stunning comment from Mr. Weiss, the Conservative party chair," Zona said. ”Keep in mind he is a teacher in Niagara Falls and does not know how property taxes are done. I feel bad for his students. It's a pretty embarrassing situation.”

"This entire campaign against me has been mudslinging, and dirty politics," Zona continued. "Colangelo has never once discussed the issues or our records and that's a shame. I understand it’s difficult to tell your party bosses 'no.' But I had to do it. When my supporters wanted to attack Mr. Colangelo, I made it clear there will be no mudslinging from my side. It's a shame he cannot stop his handlers from doing the same.

"As a legislator, you have to make tough choices and tough votes. I certainly have proven I will do so. If you cannot control your own people, how can you be counted on to make tough choices and to be an independent voice".

When Jake Pallilo was mayor of Niagara Falls in the 1990s, he called this political time of year “the silly season”. But we have, I submit, progressed:

It could be called now, the season of lies.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

OCT 29, 2013