The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency began a public relations offensive Tuesday, presenting the County Legislature a 28-page report listing all its current policies and all the projects it has ever been involved in.
Executive Director John R. Simon spoke on behalf of his often-unpopular agency, frequently criticized by lawmakers and citizens alike as uncooperative toward requests for information and heedless of the impact its granting of tax abatements has on property taxpayers.
Simon also announced plans to hold six public meetings explaining the agency's workings during November, December and January. The meetings will be in the evening at sites in Lockport, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, and the Royalton-Hartland, Lewiston-Youngstown and Barker-Newfane areas.
Simon said the IDA staff will compile public input gathered at the six meetings for consideration by the IDA board and the Legislature next spring. He added, "An annual series of meetings may be desirable for the future."
Simon, on the job for one month, spent about 15 minutes explaining his report to the legislators, who had received advance copies at their homes. A frequent IDA critic, Legislator Lee Simonson, R-Lewiston, said he was "very impressed" with the report, which cost $2,589.89 to compile. Simonson said in two weeks, the IDA staff had "addressed many concerns a lot of us have had for years." He said in the past, prying information out of the IDA was a "gut-wrenching" experience.
The report listed 144 bond issues the IDA has approved since 1974, totaling $827,447,075. It also enumerated 115 loans since it began a loan program in 1985, for a total of $9,433,832.
Twenty of those loans had to be written off in whole or in part, costing the agency $1,160,265. However, it recovered $506,137 in bad debts and earned $1,425,207 in interest on loans, for a new profit of $771,079.
Simon said the IDA wants to impose penalties on companies that don't create at least 20 percent of the new jobs they promised when applying for financing.
Simon also told the lawmakers that stricter rules are needed to force companies receiving IDA assistance to report the true number of jobs really created by IDA financing.
In response to a question from Simonson, Simon said he wants to see the IDA take over the Niagara Economic Development Fund, a $5 million pot of money for use in assisting Niagara County business. It was set up by the New York Power Authority and is now administered by the Empire State Development Corp.
However, before the IDA can take control, Simon said it needs an outside audit of the fund, and more computer capability.
Computer improvements for the county itself were set in motion by the Legislature Tuesday, as it ratified a $2,071,757 technology plan.
It will include a computer network linking all county offices, and will introduce voice mail to county government. The multiyear plan will be governed by an ad hoc committee of legislators and county officials, including one of the employees belonging to the county's PC Users Group.
In other action, the Legislature:
Sent a proposal from Legislator Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls, to study the purchase of electronic voting machines to the Administration and Finance committees.
Sent a proposal by Legislator Richard C. Corica, D- Lockport, to abolish the county's sales tax on clothing priced under $100 on Jan. 1, 1999, to the Finance Committee.
Unanimously asked Congress to override President Clinton's line-item veto of a $2.1 million consolidated training facility at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base.
Approved $1,137,657 to install about 50 portable computers in Sheriff's Department patrol and unmarked cars, and the patrol cars of the Town of Niagara, Lewiston, Youngstown and Middleport police departments. A federal grant provided $814,547 of the total.
Appropriated $1.5 million for 1998 road construction, $835,280 for the tax stabilization fund, and $220,000 for new vehicle purchases in 1998. The first two amounts were taken from money left over from a lower-than-expected payment to the state retirement system; the third was from surplus.
Awarded a two-year contract to KayVer Group of Buffalo to mine waste from the county construction and demolition landfill in Lockport. The county will pay $25.99 per ton removed. Appropriated $83,000 to renovate and purchase new furniture for the Legislature chambers and offices, and $100,000 to remodel the former auto bureau at the Niagara Falls Human Resources Building for use by Social Services.
Set an Oct. 21 public hearing on increasing the ceiling for veterans' property tax exemptions.
Passed a law requiring dog owners to clean up their pets' droppings in county parks.