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Giambra's exit ends push to merge IDAs

Erie County Executive Joel Giambra is heading off into the sunset, still clamoring for consolidation among the county's six industrial development agencies.

But as a lame duck in an administration that lost its reformist edge in the county budget crisis three years ago, Giambra is just quacking in the wind.

Giambra's colleagues on the Erie County Industrial Development Agency board were cool last week to his plea that the agency "take a strong stand" and approve a resolution next month supporting his long-standing push to merge the local IDAs.

"This community can't afford to wait any longer," Giambra says.

"How much longer are we going to sit back and wait and pander?" he asks. "Let's not continue to have this intramural competition where developers can come in and shop around for the best deal."

To be sure, the idea of consolidation has merit. Six separate IDAs in a single county is a model of inefficiency and overlapping services that stands out, even in a county with nearly 30 school districts and more than 40 municipal governments.

Giambra says consolidating IDAs would allow the remaining entity to lower the fees it charges companies receiving assistance, currently around 1.25 percent of the project's value. That would help a little.

It also would solve the even bigger problem of local IDAs giving different treatment to similar projects. The Erie County IDA, for instance, has backed hotel projects, which the Amherst IDA typically avoids. The Amherst IDA has a long history of aiding medical projects, including a Sheridan Drive neurological center earlier this month, but the Erie County IDA doesn't.

Andrew J. Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and an ECIDA board member, says that's the biggest problem with multiple IDAs.

"There's no poaching companies from one community to another because IDAs are competing," he says. "But there are multiple salespeople out there selling. There's a different sales and marketing approach" among the different agencies.

Giambra's idea even allows for keeping the other IDAs around, giving them the responsibility for smaller, local redevelopment projects that are important for individual neighborhoods.

But the idea of consolidating IDAs doesn't have much momentum these days. A committee formed this spring to consider a merger between the Amherst and Erie County IDAs has met several times without much progress, since the Amherst agency is decidedly cool to the notion. It's been several months since the committee even met.

It's not just Amherst, either. Other suburban communities are reluctant to jump on the IDA merger bandwagon, partly out of concern that they'd lose much of their autonomy under a combined entity, says ECIDA board member Michael Hoffert, who also is the president of the Buffalo AFL-CIO Council.

"I think we need some different ideas and some creativity," Hoffert says. "How are we going to get the other IDAs to buy in?"

Cheektowaga Supervisor James Jankowiak, another ECIDA board member, doesn't see the need to rush. "I think a month would be too short," he says. "I think you'd be looking at at least a three-month period to sit down with all the mayors and supervisors."

Seeing how the latest merger proposal has been kicked around since last March, three months probably won't be enough, either.

Yet with the less than six weeks left in his administration, Giambra can't afford to wait. "I'd love to prolong it," he says. "But I won't be here."

The county's six IDAs, having outlasted their main critic for eight years, will be here, though.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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