It's not every year that a local election has at least one issue that might sway voters. With all the attention garnered by the Genesee County Economic Development Center since the last County Legislature election, this November the opinions candidates hold on GCEDC funding and its policies might be an important issue for voters. We thought it a worthwhile public service to get candidates on the record on this issue as soon as they were declared candidates.
In posing the questions to the GOP candidates -- the first group to declare -- we found not all of the candidates agreed with that assessment.
We received objections to answering questions along the lines that it was too soon; wait until the election is closer; "my position is already well known"; and, most surprising, that candidates shouldn't have to answer questions before all of the candidates are declared.
There is apparently some concern that since there's still weeks left for candidates to declare, some candidates thought they shouldn't be asked policy questions until after the filing deadlines. None of the candidates explicitly stated that they fear their answers might prompt another candidate to enter the race. They did express concern that they would be sharing opinions that would be read by potential opponents before those opponents needed to answer the questions.
That's not a line of thinking The Batavian finds terribly persuasive. Any candidate should be willing to speak openly and publicly about their positions without fear of the political repercussions. If an opinion might spur another candidate to enter the race, well, then, that's good for democracy. If a candidate lacks sufficient confidence in a position that it will be easily targeted by opposition, then perhaps he or she should reconsider that position.
The filing deadlines are July 11 for candidates running on an established party line, and Aug. 20 for a candidate running as an independent (creating his or her own party line).
Below are the answers to our three GCEDC-related questions we received from six of the declared Republican candidates, the three declared Democrats and the lone independent to enter the race so far. After the three questions are statements we received from the three candidates who did not answer the questions.
Question 1: Traditionally, there has been an item in the county budget to transfer money to GCEDC to assist funding the operations of the agency. Last year, GCEDC received $215,000 in the county budget. Do you support continuing this fund transfer to GCEDC, or should it be eliminated or modified?
Shelley Stein, incumbent, Dictrict 5: The Genesee County Legislature has supported GCEDC at approximately 20% of the GCEDC 2013 approved budget. Moving forward I would support same level of funding to provide for foundational costs of GCEDC operations. Eighty percent of GCEDC’s budget must be derived from providing services and collecting fees for services from business community, grants and contractual annuity payments, not taxpayer dollars. Additionally, LeRoy Business Council and small businesses located in LeRoy are very supportive of the foundational funding of the GCEDC.
Earl Funderburk, challenger, District 5: I do not support the continuation of county budget funds to GCEDC. They have millions of dollars from fees and no longer require funds from the county.
Esther Leadley, incumbent, District 6: Every year the upcoming County budget gets several months of intense scrutiny – by the whole legislature, not just a committee. GCEDC’s funding request is always included in that scrutiny. Please note that State and Federal mandates continually erode the County legislators’ ability to provide a quality of life that Genesee County residents have come to expect.
We legislators have already begun general discussions about the 2014 budget. As we go forward, I am confident GCEDC’s funding request, when it is received, will be one of the topics of discussion. I will weigh all input and make my decision at that time.
Please also note that companies considering making a significant investment in Genesee County want concrete evidence that the County’s leadership has financial “skin in the game.”
Gregg Torrey, challenger (GOP endorsed), District 6: Every item included in the County budget needs be evaluated and that includes the funding which assists the operations of the GCEDC. With the increasing pressure put on County Government by State and Federal unfunded mandates each department must justify its funding request.
I was encouraged to see that the incentive compensation system at the GCEDC was eliminated last year. I am now more confident that the funding is directed to the intended purpose of supporting the economic development mission for the County.
With that being said, the EDC has shown a tremendous return on investment for the County and makes the County money while its funding is only a very small portion of the overall budget (under 1%). The County funding also shows that we are committed to investing in ourselves and the County’s support of the EDC’s efforts which include leveraging other State and Federal money. This support of the GCEDC does not go unnoticed during the attraction process when potential companies are considering bringing investment into our community.
Marianne Clattenburg, incumbent, District 8: My position on this issue is well documented and on the record. This was my first budget vote as a new legislator and I took the opportunity to voice the concerns that many of my constituents have expressed regarding GCEDC funding. Many opposed the salary and bonus structure of the organization. My position is that public employees who enjoy the benefits of a NYS retirement should not receive bonuses. The second reason I did not support the funding was that I wanted to send a strong message to the GCEDC that redevelopment must also become a priority of the organization. I represent the City of Batavia. We have needs and issues that are different than those of the rural towns around us. If the GCEDC is going to work as the county’s public benefit corporation dedicated to development, then it must strive to improve all areas of the county. I will dedicate my second term to working with the organization to see that this is done. My future support would be contingent upon the organization's willingness to work toward the goals of redevelopment, particularly in the City of Batavia.
William Fava, challenger, District 8: I would support a modification of the amount transferred from Genesee County to the GCEDC Agency. Originally, the agency needed the start up fund support, but now the agency has been successful in meeting yearly goals. The Agency has increased internal manpower to parallel anticipated growth and created sub organizations to minimize potential legal problems for Genesee County. In addition, the Agency continues to look forward (to) bringing in more business growth opportunities to the area…from all points of view, this State/County endeavor appears to be a success for the County. Modifications should be appropriate over the next few budget cycles to bring the annual fund down to a more reasonable amount. In doing this, the Agency can continue to document County support in any advertisement to a potential customer. The appearance of “Lack of County Support” has been mentioned many times during previous discussions concerning a decrease in funding…this is simply a reduction, not an elimination of the fund. A modification would be a win-win solution for the Agency and the County taxpayer.
Ed deJaneiro, incumbent, District 9: It now appears that the GCEDC finances are strong enough to continue without a County contribution.
Bob Bialkowski, challenger, District 9: I am very prudent when it comes to spending tax dollars so I would insist on a complete accounting of this expenditure. The way the state has the EDCs set up is that if you want to participate you have to pay. This means that if the county doesn’t support the GCEDC we won’t be considered for the grants the EDC receives, so yes I would vote to continue this support. Genesee County has done very well for itself considering that in a recent survey New York State placed 49th in economic development out of 50, but here we have seen tremendous growth. Last week Texas announced that it was aggressively marketing for New York businesses to move there. They have no state tax. New York needs to learn to treat all business the same and discontinue making special deals.
Andrew Young, candidate, District 4: Yes, I support the County investing in its goal of creating jobs, promoting business capital investment (which converts to tax base) and keeping our kids in our community.
Frank Ferrando, incumbent, District 7: As you indicated, the $215,000, or an amount similar, has been transferred to the GCEDC for several years. It’s not new. What I believe was disturbing to most local citizens was the bonus pay model used by the GCEDC with the assumption that the subsidy supported the bonuses. I and two colleagues on the Legislature voted against last year’s budget in objection to that practice. Bonuses are no longer a part of the GCEDC’s compensation practice. This year I will vote for the subsidy if the GCEDC Board presents to the Legislature a detailed description of a specific project the subsidy will be used to support. A demonstration of support by the County is important and it represents about .1 percent of our overall budget.
More after the jump. Click on the headline to read more.
Question 2: Are you confident that taxpayer subsidies for economic development in Genesee County are generating the results claimed/promised by GCEDC or should steps be taken to foster greater accountability?
Shelley Stein, incumbent, Dictrict 5: Investment of $215,000 of taxpayer dollars increases exponentially the capital investment in Genesee County; jobs, tax base, sales tax revenue, infrastructure (water and sewer lines), shovel-ready business parks and workforce educational opportunities. There is no better mechanism to leverage this investment in Genesee County.
LeRoy Plastics is an excellent local example of a private business seeking to retain jobs, renovate an older facility, and creating several new jobs within 3 years, as per their application to GCEDC for assistance in sales and mortgage tax relief. LeRoy community is pleased to see this local private investment as a sign of our economy turning around.
Earl Funderburk, challenger, District 5: For the money being paid to GCEDC leadership, we need a greater number of new businesses being lured to our county that provide good high-paying jobs. Base compensation of GCEDC employees should be directly tied to clear goals and objectives. GCEDC must be regulated better by the GCL, and compensation needs to become more proportional to performance.
Marianne Clattenburg, incumbent, District 8: The GCEDC has been very successful with many of the projects they have put forward. The opening of two new factories in the Town of Batavia is a remarkable achievement considering it was done during one of the worst economic downturns in recent memory. The STAMP project is in its preliminary stages. I fully support bringing high tech jobs to Genesee County. We need to develop the jobs that will enable future generations to live and work in the areas that they have grown up in. I do have concerns, as I said in my prior answer, that issues that face different areas of the county all need to be addressed. The legislature has the obligation to foster accountability. We have instituted term limits for the first time. We control who sits on the GCEDC board and we control a portion of their operating budget. I believe we must continue to work toward greater accountability and I support the steps that have been taken thus far.
Esther Leadley, incumbent, District 6: Yes, I am confident that “taxpayer subsidies for economic development in Genesee County are generating the results claimed/promised by the GCEDC.” GCEDC leadership reports regularly to the Ways and Means Committee of the Legislature, and annually to the whole Legislature. These are open meetings that anyone can attend. The Legislature and GCEDC work as partners, not as adversaries. I believe that the people we legislators appoint to the GCEDC board do have the best interests of Genesee County residents at the forefront of their decisions.
Gregg Torrey, challenger (GOP endorsed), District 6: I’ve seen firsthand the results and successes of the GCEDC at the Genesee Ag Park which includes successfully attracting international investment, as well as a Fortune 500 company, to locate and invest in our community. Over $200 million in private investment and nearly 200 quality jobs have been brought into in the park and there is about 40% of the park still to be developed.
The bottom line about accountability is results and the GCEDC is generating results. There have been considerable improvements within the last year in transparency, communication, and policy adjustments as well. I would like to see increased engagement by the County Legislature in appointing Board members to the GCEDC that will maintain this high level of accountability and responsibility as they continue to carry out the comprehensive economic development activities for the County.
William Fava, challenger, District 8: The results that are reported each year by GCEDC are gathered by the Agency itself and independent Accounting/Consulting organizations. The information reported to the Agency, should be audited to be validated as to the accuracy for the period being reported…remembering that numbers don’t lie, people may distort facts to support their case. For example, if a company is granted a subsidy for the creation of 5 positions, the company goes out and hires 5 people over the agreed period, a few months later, 3 people out of the 5 are released. The company reported that they hired during this period, but after the period ended…so did the employment of the three employees. The taxpayers of this county have not forgotten what Sylvania “pulled” after its tax subsidy ended; there are many individuals that never recovered from this loss of employment. The reasoning behind any subsidy or abatement program is the potential “offset” by increased sales tax collections, increased business for local vendors, increased home ownership, increased job opportunities to increase a person’s income…for the residents of the City of Batavia…look around, do you see more retail businesses starting up, do you see more new housing construction, do you see the City of Batavia enjoying an overflowing increase of new sales tax dollars? Maybe you see it in the Town of Batavia, but not in the City. The potential windfall of increased betterment has not reached the City of Batavia. I would support less independence of operation and an increase in accountability.
Ed deJaneiro, incumbent, District 9: GCEDC continues to provide new job opportunities in our County. I believe every agency needs greater accountability especially if they receive government funding.
Bob Bialkowski, challenger, District 9: The GCEDC is overseen by a board of directors. I would like to see the board being more accountable to the legislature. If elected it would be my goal to push for more development in the city and improved communications between the GCEDC board and city council. For the last few years there was a large public outcry over the GCEDC staff being paid large bonuses. The NYS comptroller issued a statement that this was wrong and needed to be discontinued. This was a major point of contention amongst taxpayers and it has been stopped. Now it’s time to move on and put a better system of checks and balances in place.
Andrew Young, candidate, District 4: Contrary to some heavily biased reports recently, the Genesee County Economic Development Center is revered and respected statewide. It also has been recognized regionally and even nationally as a benchmark organization. It amazes me that within our own county borders we don’t understand just how good they are.
Frank Ferrando, incumbent, District 7: The questions presented to the Legislative candidates might be great questions for GCEDC Board members. The GCEDC Board, as everyone realizes, is its own entity. Once appointed, they have governance over the program until terms expire.
Having stated that, I believe, as I trust most citizens in the county (do), that progress is happening. The Ag Park is but one example. Presently 200+ are working there. More jobs are coming. I also understand a McDonald’s restaurant will be going up on the East side of the City, a good indicator of spin off development. I personally would like to see a greater emphasis on redevelopment since this is the strategy needed for the City of Batavia, Village of Leroy, etc. In summary, the progress to me is obvious and it should make us feel optimistic about the future.
Question 3: Do you support or oppose tax breaks for retail projects, such as those provided to COR Development for Batavia Towne Center and the Dick’s Sporting Goods project?
Shelley Stein, incumbent, Dictrict 5: COR Development project is a very unique project for “retail development” in Genesee County. Each retail project is measured against IDA laws. COR Project does qualify for the unique allowable retail project status, for goods and services not readily available to Genesee County residents. Our board of directors of GCEDC performed a very comprehensive and exhaustive review of the project, found it to be within the letter of the law and the right investment for Genesee County residents. There are several other retail projects in our county not eligible for tax incentive abatements.
I do support PILOT incentives to encourage capital investment with a schedule of payments to local school districts, towns, villages, city and county in lieu of property taxes. The schedule builds gradually to 100% of assessment being taxable and providing increased revenue to all of the taxing jurisdictions mentioned above. Tax base increases reduce local property taxes for all of us. As a previous Town Supervisor, Town of LeRoy did receive over $20,000 per year and increased annually in PILOT payments. The school district and village have received scheduled payments also to support their annual budgets and reduce the property tax burden of homeowners.
Earl Funderburk, challenger, District 5: As a rule of fairness, the tax playing field for corporations should not have handpicked winners and losers. Existing companies should not have the playing field tilted in favor of the new guy on the block by providing them unfair tax incentives. Additionally, I believe it is healthier for our local economy to have diversity in our local businesses. One or two large employers can provide a substantial base of economic support, but the risk is that if one or two of those corporations fail or leave the economy will greatly suffer. By encouraging growth for small and medium businesses (SMBs) we can grow the economy, minimize risk, and encourage entrepreneurship. That said, there is a place for the GCEDC and incentives. Tax incentives must be consistent and rule based. Criteria and parameters should be clearly defined and not subjective. Decisions should not be made based on who you know or how good your story might be. Decisions should be made based on numbers and facts. There must be clear expectations and consequences for missing targets placed on businesses receiving incentives. Any new incentives should be time bound and consistent from one company to another. In short, the playing field should be level. I’d like to see this become the rule in Genesee County -- if not all of New York State.
Esther Leadley, incumbent, District 6: Tax breaks for retail projects are a new component of New York State’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA) regulations. Our GCEDC, which is our county’s IDA, has very qualified legal assistance from Harris Beach, a respected law firm in Rochester. I partially understand tax breaks, such as Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOTs), but that is not my area of expertise. Therefore, I cautiously trust others to make appropriate economic development a priority for Genesee County.
Gregg Torrey, challenger (GOP endorsed), District 6: As a general rule, I think that retail projects need to be scrutinized more closely because they tend not to increase the overall demand for retail goods and services and may create intense competition for established stores. It is important when considering providing tax expenditure benefits to a project such as the COR Development project that you do not end up with a net financial loss for the County.
You must, however, also consider the impact that this project will have on the sales tax revenue for the County. It is estimated that the COR Development project will generate an additional $2 million in sales tax annually once it reaches full occupancy. With this estimate the project would provide an additional $1 million to the County in local sales tax revenue. The estimated economic impact of this specific project is 25:1; meaning that for every dollar of tax relief the company will invest $25. If this project can come anywhere near these projections it would be a tremendous return on investment for the County.
The GCEDC Board has made a “Unique Facility / Services” determination for this project in order for it to be approved, which means that they feel that the predominant purpose of the project is to make goods or services which would not be, but for the project, reasonably accessible to the residents of the municipality where the project is located. I am comfortable with the Board’s analysis, determinations and approval of this specific project. I have also found that the GCEDC has participated in very few retail projects and chose not to participate in several potential retail projects including the McDonald’s project under development on the City of Batavia’s east end near the AG park.
Marianne Clattenburg, incumbent, District 8: I do not support the COR Development tax breaks for one reason: I believe they are unfair to existing retail stores in the City of Batavia. I am very concerned that this will negatively affect the small businesses that have served our residents for many years. I believe the board should have considered this before they voted to approve COR’s request.
William Fava, challenger, District 8: In this particular situation, I do not support the tax break for assisting construction on something that we already subsidized a few years back. To support this redo plan is basically using taxpayer money paid by our merchants (the ones that have remained in the city..ie., Barrett’s Sporting Goods) to help them be put out business by the big box retailers. The EDC should have approached this redo with more thought and creativity and at the same time operate within the guidelines set forth by the state.
Ed deJaneiro, incumbent, District 9: I do not support tax breaks for major retailers. I believe that giant retail stores will locate here, if they think there is money to be made, with or without tax breaks.
Bob Bialkowski, challenger, District 9: It is unfortunate that all businesses aren’t treated equal. Basically I am against these types of discriminatory practices but I did not make the rules for the EDCs. What we have in New York now is a system where everyone is competing against each other for the same piece of the action. This is why New York placed 49th in economic development. I would push for a more equitable system of tax incentives to help all business in the county. This would be a difficult but not impossible battle. At the county level some relief and assistance could be given to already existing businesses.
Andrew Young, candidate, District 4: I believe each project needs to be judged based on its individual merits. If after careful consideration a project makes sense for our community, we should support it.
In regard to your specific example of COR, it is important to note that like nearly all GCEDC projects, no outlay of taxpayer dollars (cash) was given, no checks were written. The County simply agreed not to take as much of the increased tax revenue that results from additional capital investment. This is done to incentivize investment and is done only for a period of time.
Even with the unfortunate departure of Lowe's, the Batavia Towne Center facility produced more than $1 million in local sales tax revenues this past year. Our county’s sales tax revenues have increased considerably because of this retail center.
In 2013, the Batavia Towne Center (COR and Target) will pay some $314,000 in local property taxes. If that site was still a trailer park, its property owners would have paid roughly $40,000 in local property taxes. And by the way, that amount paid by COR and Target increases substantially each year going forward until it is on the tax rolls for 100% of its value at which time the owners will be paying in excess of seven hundred fifty thousand dollars each year in local property taxes. Again, instead of $40,000.
The most recent COR project applies only to new/additional capital investment. It will drive an additional $18 million into our community, all of which does not exist today and much of which will further increase the local property tax paid, immediately and to a greater degree over time. It will also generate a considerable net increase in sales tax for our local municipalities.
Frank Ferrando, incumbent, District 7: I appreciate that the GCEDC recognizes the importance of all business. If new jobs can be created and additional revenue streams developed for our municipalities, those are good things. Our tax base will be expanded over time and sales tax kicks in at the onset of business. Should we let the land sit idle? That option, in my opinion, would be bad business.
District 1, Raymond F. Cianfrini: Howard, I think most of us on the County Legislature have established our position regarding GCEDC. Why not ask the new candidates where they stand? Also, I think it's way too premature to be getting into these issues now. Why not wait for the election season? Also, what is this going to establish with those of us who have no opposition? Finally, I have to ask by going into these issues if you are reporting the news or trying to generate news?
District 2, Robert J. Bausch: Howard, I appreciate your questions and they are valid. However the questions will be more appropriate in the fall after all the tickets have been established.
I have established a public record on the issues and have received questions about my position on various occasions so the public knows my positions.
District 3, Annie M. Lawrence: Your timing is premature on this issue. Play fair, when all parties have endorsed for Genesee County Legislature, then I will be able to answer your questions. (Note: This came in from Lawrence before the Democrats had announced their candidates. However, once the candidates were announced, we received no further e-mails from Lawrence.)