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IDAs unite in fight to keep power; Urge Poloncarz to treat agencies as equals

The supervisors of the five Erie County towns that have their own industrial development agencies are banding together to fight legislation that would limit the powers of local IDAs.

They have written to County Executive Mark Poloncarz, urging him to treat them as equal partners in his push to reform the local IDAs, and defending the agencies' economic-development value.

And one of those supervisors, Lancaster's Dino Fudoli, on Monday repeated his arguments that Poloncarz and Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, just want to make changes to the local IDAs that would benefit their union allies.

"He doesn't do anything -- anything -- without labor involved. Period," said Fudoli, who also serves as chairman of the Lancaster IDA. "What he wants to do is destroy the local IDAs."

Poloncarz denies any political motivation in his call for IDA reform.

Fudoli spoke Monday at a Lancaster IDA work session held to allow members to talk about whether they want to set a higher standard for the projects they deem worthy of tax breaks.

But after 90 minutes of discussion, the IDA board members showed little inclination to deny support to the restaurants and similar projects that have drawn criticism from Poloncarz.

If the IDA's legal counsel decides a project is eligible for benefits, that's good enough for board member William D. Tate Sr., among others.

"We're a rubber-stamp organization. We're not a judge and jury," Tate said.

Poloncarz has complained that the IDAs in Amherst, Clarence, Concord, Hamburg and Lancaster have provided tax breaks to developments that don't have regional economic impact.

Fudoli, who took office Jan. 1, also has raised concerns about the merits of the projects approved for tax breaks by the Lancaster IDA under his predecessor, Robert H. Giza.

At Fudoli's request, the Lancaster IDA board earlier this month tabled two requests for IDA assistance -- from a Depew pizzeria and a Bowmansville office and warehouse facility -- pending further review at Monday's work session.

"What we don't want to do is give [Poloncarz and Ryan] any extra ammunition, so to speak, for any reason to pick on us," Fudoli said.

But IDA members rejected criticism of their decision-making by Poloncarz and others.

Given the region's economic struggles, the board members insisted, it's worthwhile to support almost any project that is eligible to receive tax breaks -- even those that create relatively low-paying service jobs.

"To some people, that's a lot better than nothing," said board member John Visone.

It appears the two tabled projects -- Penora's Pizza in Depew and Bella Vista Group's Lancaster Flex Park -- have enough support to win approval at next month's regular meeting.

While the Lancaster IDA may not change the type of project it approves, the IDA board is making adjustments to the approval process.

First, the board will hold more work sessions to thoroughly vet the requests for assistance, which used to be discussed and approved at the same regular meeting.

Second, the board will receive more detailed analyses of the cost of the requested tax breaks and the economic benefits of the project, consultant Paul Leone said.

But much of Monday's meeting was devoted to a strident defense of the Lancaster IDA and the other local IDAs against the Poloncarz reform effort and the Ryan legislation.

"I wish the general public understood IDAs a little better," said Fudoli, who referred to a public opinion "battle."

Fudoli said he believes Poloncarz and Ryan want to take control of the five local IDAs and impose a requirement that workers on IDA-backed developments be paid a prevailing wage, a top desire of labor unions.

He also contends that the two Democrats are attacking the IDAs because the five towns are headed by Republican supervisors, a claim Poloncarz denies.

"The tax breaks they are giving are not creating jobs and not benefiting everybody. They realize they have no defense, so they're making this, 'Ohh, Mark Poloncarz is taking over,' " the county executive said in a recent interview, noting that he criticized the Lancaster IDA when Giza, a Democrat, was in charge.

Fudoli on Monday expressed his annoyance that Poloncarz is meeting with the supervisors of towns that don't have IDAs, but he hasn't yet met with Fudoli.

Spokesman Peter Anderson confirmed that the county executive is holding sessions with the supervisors of non-IDA towns but said Poloncarz would welcome a meeting with Fudoli.

News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this report.