Erie County Executive Chris Collins' plea to extend a key provision for an economic development program that cuts financing costs for major projects by nonprofit groups failed to spur the County Legislature into action Tuesday.
The Legislature's Economic Development Committee tabled the issue after a hearing that included testimony from members of the Buffalo and Erie County Industrial Land Development Corp., or ILDC, and representatives of local labor unions.
At issue is a waiver that exempts nonprofits receiving tax-exempt financing through the ILDC from a requirement that they pay generally higher "prevailing wages" to workers on those projects.
Collins argued that the higher wage expenses those groups would face under the prevailing wage mandate would more than offset any savings they would receive from the lower interest rates they would pay on the tax-exempt financing available through the ILDC.
"On the one side the ILDC is concerned companies will not go forward with projects that must pay a prevailing wage," said Legislator Timothy Whalen, D-Buffalo, chairman of the Economic Development Committee.
"But other data presented today seems to show that it minimally adds to the project cost while increasing the salary of the local work force, and that translates into dollars spent in our own community," he said.
Collins spokesman Grant Loomis said the county executive still hopes the Legislature will reconsider the waiver as soon as possible. "Improving our local economy and creating opportunities for businesses to put people to work should be our top priority," Loomis said. "Sadly, even the most effective and sensible policies get derailed by politics."
The ILDC last year approved financing for eight major projects by local nonprofits, ranging from new facilities at Canisius and Medaille colleges to a parking ramp at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and Baker Victory Services' new residential treatment facility for troubled children.
Those projects involve more than $122 million in total investment and are projected to create or retain nearly 1,600 jobs.
Collins said the tax-exempt financing will save those nonprofit groups an estimated $12 million in interest costs, while supporters of the waiver estimate that requiring the nonprofits to pay prevailing wages would increase project costs by a combined $22.8 million.
The ILDC, an affiliate of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, emerged as an alternative funding source for nonprofits after many of its projects were blocked because of the State Legislature's failure to allow IDAs to handle civic facilities projects.
"On an issue as important as this one I think it is vital we study all the data available to make an informed decision to find a solution that will be an economic win-win for Erie County," Whalen said.