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Casino cash to go to call-center upgrade

The Cattaraugus County Legislature agreed Wednesday to use $99,762 of its Seneca-Allegany Casino revenues to help Pioneer Credit Recovery get an upgrade of its high-speed data communications at the Ashford Office Complex at 9030 Route 219.

The company opened its fourth call center there in early 2006 to expand its government contracts collections work, with the aid of a county Industrial Development Agency incentive package worth $1.2 million.

Pioneer leased 14,000 square feet in the office complex for two years and equipped 160 work stations. However, only 76 workers are employed there because all the necessary phone lines couldn't be obtained from Frontier, the phone company that serves Ashford and other small communities.

"It's not their [Pioneer's] fault," said Legislator Jerry E. Burrell, R-Franklinville, who is chief sponsor of the legislation. "Pioneer was under the belief they could have the phones, and we would like to see all the work stations filled."

Frontier is owned by the publicly traded Citizens Communications Co., which earlier this month contracted to pay Country Road Communications $62 million in cash for the outstanding common stock of California Global Valley Network and Global Valley Network Services serving 15,000 phone lines.

The grant legislation bypassed earlier committee sessions due to the Legislature's abbreviated summer schedule and the need to keep the business in the county.

The proposal was discussed behind closed doors at last Wednesday's Agriculture and Development Committee meeting headed by Burrell. It was adopted in an "immediate" vote during Wednesday's session.

The grant is part of the county's $645,000 allocation from the Seneca Allegany Casino proceeds.

The legislation authorizes the county's Business Development Corp. to contract with Citizens Communications to provide the high-speed telecommunications infrastructure through March 31. Ashford Office Complex landlord Peter Krog has agreed to contribute $10,000 to the upgrade and must sign a contract.

In an amendment proposed on the floor by James L. Boser, D-Allegany, and approved by the lawmakers, Pioneer Credit will not receive the funds unless it agrees to keep its 76 workers on the payroll, add at least 24 more employees and extend its office lease through March 31, 2010.

Minority Leader Linda L. Witte, D-Olean, said after the meeting that her Democratic caucus would not agree to provide the grant without the assurances in the amendment that extra jobs will be created and the project stays at its current location.

Burrell said Pioneer has provided a letter of commitment and already has invested $840,000 in capital improvements. He said quick action was needed because "Pioneer expressed to us that in September they needed to have a decision in place."

He said Frontier has indicated it is willing to invest another $50,000 in the Ashford service area that could bring broadband service to other businesses and residences in the area and attract additional businesses.

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