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ECIDA rankled by audit request

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency and County Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz are at odds over Poloncarz's move to audit payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements, or PILOTs, approved by the economic development agency.

The ECIDA said because it is not a county entity, Poloncarz's office lacks auditing authority over the agency.

The comptroller countered that he wants to ensure the county is reaping the intended benefits of the PILOTs and said that the ECIDA provided assistance for an audit conducted in 1998 by his predecessor.

Poloncarz said he hopes to persuade the ECIDA to change its mind on providing the documents he is seeking but is willing to use his office's subpoena power if necessary.

"I do intend on looking at this matter," he said. "I don't see any need to resort to subpoenas and court of law."

The comptroller's office in late August sent a letter to the ECIDA's chairman, Philip Ackerman, notifying him the office was starting an audit of the agency's PILOT agreements and payments from the start of 2006 through the end of 2008. PILOTs are an economic development tool, allowing companies that enter into them to reduce their tax bills for a prescribed number of years.

The county comptroller's office in its letter to the ECIDA requested access to documentation and records for PILOT payments and agreements.

In a response dated Friday, Ackerman wrote that the agency is a New York State public benefit corporation that is overseen, monitored and audited by the state comptroller's office.

During Monday's ECIDA board meeting, Ackerman said that while the agency had "nothing to hide," he questioned the audit's timing, saying "let's see how interested the county comptroller's office is" in the ECIDA after the election.

In a telephone interview, Poloncarz denied the audit was an effort to score "political points," saying such an audit typically takes 90 to 120 days. "In all likelihood, this audit would never be completed before the election is completed," he said. Poloncarz, a Democrat, is running against Philip C. Kadet, a Republican.

Ackerman wrote to the comptroller's office that much of the information about its PILOTs is available in other ways, such as online at the agency's Web site and the New York State Authority Budget Office's Web site. It has also been reported to both the state comptroller's office and the state Authority Budget Office, he said.

He also invited the county comptroller's office to request information from the ECIDA under the state's Freedom of Information Law, "by which it responds to any and all such information requests."

Poloncarz said he was "surprised" by the ECIDA's response to an audit by his office, saying the agency assisted with a 1998 audit conducted by his predecessor, Nancy Naples.

Poloncarz said the information about PILOTs that the agency has submitted to the state comptroller's office isn't extensive enough for his review. He said he wants to explore whether the parties involved in the PILOTs are making the payments expected of them under those agreements, as well as meeting other standards.

While the ECIDA is not a county entity, he said, "it's an entity directly related to Erie County."

Ackerman said the agency is "not opposed to the idea of being audited by the appropriate entity."

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com