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Amherst IDA releases study to get message out IDAs accused of giving away too much in tax incentives

Tired of criticism from the public and town leaders, the Amherst Industrial Development Agency is trying to get its message out about what it does and how it benefits the town.

The agency released a study Friday showing that developers and businesses that have obtained incentives from the agency paid more than $13.5 million in taxes this year, a 34 percent increase from five years ago. The agency conducts the report and survey of businesses annually, but this year plans to promote it more than in the past.

According to the report, payments-in-lieu-of-taxes from developers or businesses provided $7.8 million in revenues for local governments for 178 properties for which the agency took title as part of an incentive package. That's up six-fold from $1.2 million in 1991, when the IDA held 137 properties.

Another 102 properties whose titles have returned to the developer or business generated $5.7 million in taxes, versus very little in taxes from vacant land prior to development.

For example, Ciminelli Development Co.'s Centerpoint project on Essjay Road generates close to $1 million in taxes today, compared to less than $1,000 before it was developed, the report said.

The agency has also supported 30 redevelopment projects with $103 million in investments since 2000, generating $11.7 million in property taxes in six years.

This year, the IDA has supported 18 completed projects worth $82.2 million, including company expansions, redevelopment and senior housing. That's fewer projects than last year, but a steady increase in value over the past three years.

During the agency's monthly meeting Friday morning, Executive Director James J. Allen and directors cited the statistics as evidence of the value of the IDA, and why it needs to be allowed to do its job.

The release of the report comes as IDAs across the region continue to come under fire from some politicians, who accuse them of giving away too much in tax incentives, not getting enough jobs in return, and not forcing the companies to either do better or return the benefits.

So in a bid to change minds, IDA officials put the report on the agency's Web site, and hope to make presentations not only to the town board, but also to any outside group, company or organization that is willing to hear it. The agency even launched a media campaign and revamped its Web site to get its message out.

"I hope this goes a long way in helping to explain to people what we
do," Allen said.

IDAs all over face questions about their decisions and whether incentives are necessary, one expert said.

"They all struggle with the same issues," said Kent Gardner, president and CEO of the Center for Governmental Research in Rochester. "Often, IDAs get painted with that one brush that says perhaps they're doing deals they shouldn't have."

The Amherst IDA in particular has been battling criticism from Town Supervisor Satish B. Mohan and others, who also say the town is overdeveloped and blame the agency in part.

That has led to frustration among IDA board members and officials, who say they're misunderstood by the public.

"With economic development, no one knows how it happens and how it comes about," said IDA chairman Edward Stachura. "We have a very strong, very positive message. They don't understand it."

Some even say many town leaders ignore their reports and have an inherent bias against anything from the agency. "The word IDA is like saying Love Canal. They don't understand what we do," said William O'Loughlin, who is the town board's liaison to the IDA board.

Since 1990, about 38,273 jobs have been created in Amherst with IDA assistance, with 15 percent of them part-time, the report said. And 46 of the companies are planning to expand again, adding 332,500 square feet and about 410 jobs. IDA officials have started reaching out to them, Allen said.

A second report on land use found that residential properties in the town consume $50.7 million more in services from the town than they generate in taxes. By contrast, commercial properties pay $48.8 million more than they receive. In all, including open land but not school or government properties, governments spend $3 million more on services than they get in property taxes.

In other business, the IDA:

*Approved modified fees that HSBC Bank USA has already agreed to for its data center expansion on Park Club Lane. HSBC will pay 1 percent of the project value for the construction. But because the bank is committing to 15 years of technology purchases as part of the project, it will have to pay only 0.25 percent per year for that, or $150,000 annually.

*Backed a resolution for a tax-exempt bond for up to $20 million to renovate and expand the Beechwood Residence and Beechwood Nursing Home. A bond inducement was approved last month.

*Agreed to allow Uniland Development to refinance an $8.6 million mortgage for 150 CrossPoint Parkway, which houses NCO Financial Group.

*Agreed to allow Uniland to refinance $13.7 million in two mortgages into a single $11 million mortgage for its 300 Corporate Parkway project.

*Agreed to allow 20 Lawrence Bell LLC to refinance a $2.8 million mortgage for Buffalo Pharmacies' building.

The agency also reported a profit of $87,286 so far this year, putting it ahead of budget. And Stachura said several projects "in the hopper" to be completed by year-end should raise that to as much as $125,000.

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