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PLANNING COMMISSIONER MAY BE ASKED TO LEAD IDA

Samuel M. Ferraro, Niagara County's commissioner of planning and development, may be asked to do double duty as executive director of the Industrial Development Agency.

The Personnel Committee of the IDA board of directors will meet behind closed doors Wednesday morning to discuss the possibility, IDA Co-chairman Carmen A. Granto said.

Granto, the Niagara Falls school superintendent, said the options include "whether Sam should come over permanently or whether he should just come aboard until we get a new executive director . . . whatever's best for the taxpayers of the county."

The IDA's top job has been vacant since the board forced John R. Simon to resign March 26. Simon, who was earning slightly more than $80,000 a year, had held the executive director job since 1997.

Since then, Simon's assistant director, Larry R. Witul, has been interim executive director.

"We're going to have a dialogue with the (County Legislature) chairman and Sam about our options," Granto said.

Legislature Chairman Sean J. O'Connor, D-Niagara Falls, said the full Legislature would have to approve a change in Ferraro's job assignment. "It's definitely an alternative we need to look at," O'Connor said.

Ferraro said Friday that he enjoys his current job, but he added, "As you know, I serve at the pleasure of the Legislature."

Ferraro enjoys high esteem from many legislators, some of whom suggested he become Niagara's first county manager. Ferraro declined to seek that position, which went to a newcomer, Gregory D. Lewis of Lyon County, Minnesota.

It's not unprecedented for the Planning Department and the IDA to have the same boss. Leo J. Nowak Jr. headed both agencies from 1984 to 1991 before leaving his county job to work at the IDA full time. He retired from the IDA in 1997.

"I don't think Sam could do (the IDA job) full time," Granto said.

Last year, concerns that the IDA and the Planning Department weren't working well together led to a proposal by Legislator Samuel P. Granieri, D-Niagara Falls, that the agencies merge.

That didn't happen, but a task force was created that worked out a nonbinding memorandum of understanding between the IDA and the Planning Department to avoid duplication and communicate better. The IDA was to continue contributing a small sum to the business-retention effort spearheaded by Michael A. Casale, Ferraro's deputy commissioner for business development.

"Certainly we need to coordinate better," Granto said.

Granto said he's also suggesting that if the county is still concerned about a lack of office space for various departments, the IDA could help by giving the county some of the offices at its headquarters in Vantage International Pointe, the former Inducon Industrial Park off Lockport Road.

"We have 10,000 square feet of office space. We probably need less than half that," Granto said.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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