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Sloma steaming over Niagara IDA audit

WHEATFIELD – A negative audit from the State Comptroller’s Office about the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency had IDA Chairman Henry M. Sloma hot under the collar Friday.

Sloma contended that the audit contains errors that he and the IDA staff pointed out to the auditor and his supervisor before it was released. “They ignored us. They don’t care about what we said,” Sloma said. He added, “We think we’re on solid ground in the way we operate.”

Comptroller’s Office spokesman Brian Butry responded, “We stand by our audit findings. Had we determined there were any errors in the draft, we would have corrected them before issuing it.”

Unlike the other two audits of county IDAs released Friday, the Niagara IDA’s response letter was allowed to stand without comment by the Comptroller’s Office, instead of being marked with the auditors’ replies.

In 25 IDA-backed projects the state chose from 2013 through January of this year, seven payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, were billed incorrectly: three too high and four too low.

Sloma said if there were any mistakes, the fault lies with the municipal tax collectors who sent the PILOT bills. The IDA doesn’t do that.

“We give classes to them every year. We show them how to calculate it,” Sloma said. The IDA is working on shifting billing duty to the county.

The audit also asserted that the IDA’s reporting of the number of jobs its incentives have created or retained isn’t always accurate and needs to be better verified by the IDA. Sixteen of the 25 companies fell short of job goals, reporting a total of 1,468 employees in 2013 while having promised 1,682.

Sloma said the IDA relies on copies of forms the businesses have to submit to Albany, showing tax withholding, wages and unemployment insurance. As for auditing the numbers, which it would be illegal for businesses to falsify, Sloma said, “We don’t have the resources to do that, and most importantly, we don’t have the authority to do that.”

However, IDA staffers visit companies that fall behind on job commitments to find out why and report to the IDA board.

The state audit said the IDA doesn’t calculate a cost-benefit analysis for its projects. Sloma said that’s false. “We use a program that used all across the state to do that calculation,” he said.