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Supervisor is selfless with funding

Amherst Supervisor Dr. Barry Weinstein had 4 million reasons to be selfish.

Instead, he did what was best for the greater good.

Good for him.

It all started last year, when the federal government came up with a stimulus program that would offer less costly tax-exempt bond financing to projects struggling amidst the credit crunch to get funding from banks and other traditional sources.

Erie County got $17.1 million to hand out. The City of Buffalo got $7.2 million. Amherst received $4 million to disperse to worthy projects.

It was a lucrative program, offering developers a chance to not only get financing that was still excruciatingly difficult to line up, but to do so at an interest rate that was far lower than anything they could find from private lenders.

Not surprisingly, companies lined up for a chance to dip into the region's pot of financing. Between Buffalo and Erie County, 11 developers applied for financing, asking for more than four times as much funding than was in the pot.

It was a different story in Amherst. Unlike the city and county, which quickly agreed to work together in doling out the funding, Amherst initially tried to go it alone, without making a big public splash about the $4 million in low-cost financing it had to offer.

Instead, Weinstein asked the Amherst Industrial Development Agency to call developers around town to see if they had any qualified projects in the works that they could use the federally backed financing for.

The IDA couldn't find any takers.

"Amherst called around and couldn't find a developer willing to do a project in Amherst," Weinstein said.

With the city and county already working together to hand out the recovery zone funding, Weinstein decided to join the collaboration party, albeit a little late. But give him credit for coming at all, since it potentially took $4 million off the table that could have gone to a worthy project in Amherst.

"You're seeing collaboration here at somewhat of an unprecedented level," said Erie County Executive Chris Collins.

Rather than let its chunk of lucrative financing go to waste when there were plenty of other developers with projects in the Buffalo Niagara region clamoring for a piece of the action, Weinstein shifted Amherst's share of the funding over to Erie County.

That added $4 million to the pool of $24.3 million in bond financing that already was available through the joint efforts of Erie County and the City of Buffalo, expanding the pot of available funding by about 17 percent.

"It's rare that a locality gets money and says 'I can't use it,' and sends it to a neighbor," said U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer. "If there were more people like the supervisor of Amherst, who said 'I don't have good use for the money' and turns it over, that would be good, too."

With Amherst's share of the recovery zone funding added to the pool, Collins and Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown had a little easier time parsing out the funding. A joint committee from the city and the county had whittled the 11 initial applicants down to the final five. Those five projects still were seeking $55 million in funding, roughly twice as much as was in the total pot of available financing.

Weinstein's selfless decision helped Brown and Collins "award a little bit extra to these companies, which maybe helped put them over the top," Collins said.

Weinstein, for his part, showed up for last Monday's announcement of the funding awards. But rather than sing his own praises, Weinstein probably didn't even say 20 words.

He didn't need to say much, though. His action spoke for itself.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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