A New York commission yesterday recommended that the state's 116 industrial development agencies be consolidated so that no county would have more than one.

The Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness released a report recommending a wide range of options that were intended to generate $1 billion of savings. However, a program bill released by Gov. David Paterson yesterday that included some of the commission's recommendations did not include consolidation of IDAs.

The commission's recommendations included sharing and consolidating services of local government services, moving the state toward a unified jail system, and consolidating school districts, justice courts, and IDAs.

The commission, which was formed by an executive order of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer a year ago, said in its report that consolidating IDAs would prevent agencies from luring companies from one area in the state to another rather than creating new jobs, a practice known as "pirating." The commission said that 26 of the state's 62 counties have multiple IDAs and that those should be consolidated into single county-wide agency or regional IDAs in some cases.

Under the recommendations, county governments would negotiate with other municipalities to create a single IDA for the county or a regional agency that would have a new board to represent the county as a whole, including representatives from and municipality that lost an IDA.

The development agencies provide economic benefits to companies and nonprofits that include tax exemptions and tax-exempt financing.

George Leveille, executive director of the Bethlehem Industrial Development Authority which is one of seven IDAs in Albany County, said that consolidating the development agencies by county might work in some areas but would not make sense in others.

"I'm totally supportive of consolidating dormant agencies into a large enough geographic area to where they're no longer dormant and they can fulfill the needs of that geographic area but it may not mean arbitrarily one per county," Leveille said. "If you have multiple IDAs that are competent that are doing business and supporting economic development in their community, how do you decide which IDA [to keep]?"

The Albany County Industrial Development Agency is not very active, but fills a niche for communities in the county that don't have an IDA, he said.

"In our case, our IDA provides strong income support to the community for its economic planning activities, so how is that going to be offset?" he said. Leveille said he agreed with anti-pirating provisions but that the problem was not widespread.

Harris Beach PLLC attorney Shawn Griffin said that consolidating the agencies on a county-wide basis would not address high taxes, which is a major economic development issue in the state in his view. He also said consolidation would take away local say over what was best for each community.

"Consolidating local [bond] issues is in no way, not even in a small step, headed in the right direction as a matter of fact it heads in the wrong direction," Griffin said. "You're going to get communities like Westchester where there are significant local differences of opinion and how they want to develop that you can't have that local flavor of 'what's the best deal for our community'."

Harris Beach represents 33 IDAs across the state.

Paterson's office did not return a call by press time about IDA consolidation.

 

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