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Extension of economic program sought ; Collins wants waiver on prevailing wage

County Executive Chris Collins is calling for the Erie County Legislature to extend an economic development program that has helped advance a number of projects by nonprofit groups but expired at the end of 2010.

The Legislature in late December did not vote on a measure that would have exempted recipients of funding through the Buffalo & Erie County Industrial Land Development Corp., known as the ILDC, from a mandate that they pay prevailing wages to construction workers on those projects. The ILDC is an affiliate of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency.

Tax-exempt financing through the program allows nonprofits to borrow at lower costs. Collins said the program has financed $122 million in new construction and has created more than 1,600 jobs. Medaille College, Enterprise Charter School and Buffalo State College are among the nonprofits with projects that were approved for the program.

"These savings are often the difference between these projects going forward or not going forward," Collins said at a Monday news conference.

Collins is urging the Legislature to vote on an extension Thursday, at its first meeting of the new year, to ensure any future projects are not delayed or put at risk.

While Collins said he was "optimistic" the program would be extended, he conceded he was unsure how much support it has. He said the Legislature's six Republicans favor extending the program but did not know how many of the nine Democrats would back it. The program would need a total of eight votes to be extended.

"By voting in favor of this, the Legislature will be supporting economic development that we desperately need in Western New York," Collins said.

Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams, through a spokeswoman, referred questions to Timothy J. Whalen, chairman of the Legislature's Economic Development Committee. Whalen, D-Buffalo, could not be reached. The committee is scheduled to hold a hearing today on the tax-exempt financing issue.

Collins said Miller-Williams was noncommittal about how she or other Legislature Democrats might vote when he asked her about it.

"She very directly said several members of the Democrat caucus wanted to continue a requirement for prevailing wage," Collins said. "And that's what torpedoed this last time. If you saddle this tax-exempt bond financing with a prevailing wage requirement, the extra cost dwarfs any savings" derived from using the program.

Collins said he is asking for the waiver on prevailing wage to be extended through 2011, though he would prefer to see it continued indefinitely.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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