The financially troubled Niagara County Industrial Development Agency decided Thursday to cut off funding to the county's Niagara Falls International Airport takeover effort for five weeks.
In the meantime, the IDA board will decide whether it can afford to keep paying the expenses of the Niagara Airport Development Corp.
The board also voted to ask the County Legislature to send money to the IDA, which would be the first time since 1994 that the county has subsidized the agency. A $250,000 request was discussed, and IDA Co-chairman Carmen A. Granto said the county could earmark the money for a specific use if it wants.
"We definitely support local control of the airport. We may not have the means to do it," said Granto, the Niagara Falls school superintendent. He said the IDA should approve any NADC expenses before they are incurred, not after.
The board's Finance Committee will meet sometime before the next full board meeting June 19 and decide if money for the NADC can be found in the budget. Even though the IDA has been paying the airport corporation's bills since last year, it is not included in the IDA budget.
"Either we put it in and get some money for it or I cannot support it," said board member Kevin Schuler, director of governmental affairs for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
Legislator William L. Ross, a spectator at the meeting, said the NADC is doomed without IDA funding.
"You virtually lay the NADC to rest," said Ross, C-Wheatfield. He said the move would wipe out the county's hopes of persuading the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to turn over the Niagara Falls airport.
"The NFTA has made it very clear that unless they see money moving up front, they're not moving," Ross said.
Legislator Renae Kimble, an IDA board member and president of the NADC, cast the only vote against the cutoff.
She said the NFTA will settle for proof that funding can be obtained, and said the NADC is close to beginning negotiations with the NFTA. But she said the airport effort isn't endangered and the bills that NADC has received will be paid.
"We are working to do what we have to do. That's all I'm going to say," Kimble said.
Kimble, D-Niagara Falls, said she had discussed a $250,000 grant to the IDA with Legislature Chairman Sean J. O'Connor.
Reached by phone, O'Connor, D-Niagara Falls, said he favors funding for the IDA if the county can afford it. "I feel there will be a strong interest to fund that project," he said. "I think it's imperative we first look at the overall financial health of the county."
There was no interest in IDA funding from Minority Leader Gerald K. Farnham. "Until someone shows me otherwise, it's a train wreck," said Farnham, R-Lockport.
Kimble said the $250,000 "is just a starting point. There's no guarantee the Legislature will come up with even $10,000."
O'Connor said Tuesday's Legislature meeting will include a full report on the county's financial condition and the impact of the new state budget. O'Connor said any IDA funding request would be referred to committee for discussion.
O'Connor said the county needs to be more aggressive in economic development.
The IDA cut its budget by more than $300,000 last month and laid off four of its 10 employees. However, the board concluded Thursday that it overdid the layoffs, as it voted, 6-1, to bring back its internal accountant, Michael Dudley. Granto said the surviving staffers have been complaining they can't get the agency's work done.
Despite that, the board voted to have Susan L. Figueroa, an IDA project manager, work 15 hours a week for the NADC. That will be the IDA's only contribution to the airport corporation until June 19.