Since announcing my candidacy for Mayor of Niagara Falls, I've had the opportunity to speak with many city residents about the issues that are important to them. It's abundantly clear that the people of our community are concerned about a wide range of problems, including a lack of jobs and economic development in the city.
Nationwide, our country is continuing to recover from the economic downturn that hit several years ago. In Niagara Falls, that recovery has failed to materialize. While the statewide unemployment rate hovers around 6.3%, the unemployment rate in Niagara Falls is approaching 10%, the highest in the entire state.
In Niagara Falls, we have many wonderful small businesses that have persevered through very challenging economic times. What we do not have are new companies, whether large or small, that are willing to come to our city to provide living-wage jobs for our community. These businesses, which are consistently bypassing Niagara Falls, create jobs, invest in the community in which they locate or expand, and spur economic development.
One of the strongest deterrents we have to attracting new business is the city's non-homestead tax rate. For those who are not familiar with the policy, the City has a two-tier tax rate for property owners, one for residential property owners and one for commercial property owners. The 2014 homestead (residential) property tax rate is $17.69/thousand, and the non-homestead (commercial) property tax rate is $30.11/thousand.
That is an astounding disparity that not only penalizes current businesses, but it strongly discourages prospective companies from coming to Niagara Falls, along with the jobs and economic development that they would bring.
Despite the fact that over 26% of the city's population is living in poverty, the current Mayor has done nothing to address this disparity, and the residents of our community are paying the price for this inaction. He has failed to institute a single substantive living-wage job creation initiative, and our community continues to suffer from a lack of opportunities. Our Economic Development department remains leaderless. There's no plan for casino money. Our population continues to drop. This lack of leadership forces current residents and businesses to shoulder more of the burden.
All major studies of municipalities with a non-homestead and homestead tax rates in upstate New York have concluded that over time, the gap widens between relative effective tax rates, further penalizing existing businesses while discouraging new private capital investment.
While the current Mayor flaunts and caters to his powerful Albany connections, it's disheartening to realize he's never once lobbied or worked on behalf of our city in eliminating a destructive policy. In addition, Niagara Falls receives approximately $20 million each year in casino dollars, revenues that, as specifically stated in the gaming compact, are to be utilized for economic development. Instead, over five million dollars of our casino share goes to support state run agencies, while another large portion is used for debt payments.
The time has come to do away with this archaic and punitive system. The people of this community deserve opportunities; they demand leaders who will not simply accept the status quo, are not afraid of change, and who are willing to think outside of the box to move this city forward.