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Niagara IDA considers changing policy on local hiring

WHEATFIELD – The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency may vote in August on changes in its policy on local hiring by recipients of tax breaks, and on rules barring undocumented immigrants from working on IDA-assisted projects.

However, Stephen F. Brady, chairman of the governance committee of the IDA board, and the agency’s attorney, Mark J. Gabriele, raised concerns about both issues last week.

The County Legislature voted unanimously June 18 in favor of a Democratic resolution calling for the revocation of tax benefits for any company that receives IDA incentives and then allows illegal immigrants to work on the project.

It also called for the IDA to create a tougher local hiring policy. At present, the IDA board asks applicants to do their best to hire local workers.

“It’s our tax dollars that are providing these incentives. We have to get the benefits,” said Legislature Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls.

“It’s certainly time for us to look at it, based on the impetus from the Legislature,” said Brady, a National Grid spokesman.

Virtuoso suggested modeling the county’s policy on that of the Monroe County IDA, but that IDA’s policy considers the rules met if the workers come from any of nine counties around Rochester.

The Erie County IDA has a local hiring policy that includes seven Western New York counties, including Niagara.

At the June 18 meeting, Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, called for a Niagara County-only policy.

Brady wasn’t thrilled with that notion.

“I’m not saying we wouldn’t do it. A concern would be reciprocity. Erie and Niagara counties are separated by a canal. Would we want Niagara County residents to be restricted from working in Erie County, if Erie County were to do the same thing? We are, after all, a regional economy,” Brady said.

Gabriele spoke of “what type of local hiring would best suit this agency” and “coming up with a policy this board is comfortable with.”

“We want to make sure we don’t do anything that limits development opportunities in the county,” Brady said.

Legislator Jason A. Zona, D-Niagara Falls, has threatened to introduce a law on local hiring if the agency itself won’t act.

Virtuoso insisted, “It’s our tax dollars. It should go back to our people. Let’s face it: We have a high unemployment rate. We’re only going to get it down if we provide jobs for our people.”

Gabriele said the IDA could easily enforce a local hiring policy by requiring applicants to supply names and addresses of all employees. But he said the IDA has “no possibility of enforcing” a ban on undocumented immigrants.

“We have to rely on local law enforcement or the feds,” he said.

The issue of illegal immigration arose with reports that Department of Homeland Security agents arrested seven Guatemalans while they were working on the construction of Greenpac Mill, an IDA-assisted Niagara Falls paper mill.

The IDA now requires applicants to obey local, state and federal regulations. Gabriele said the IDA “would, if necessary, explore some tweaks” to make a ban on undocumented immigrants more overt.