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Editorial: IDAs need to do better at keeping public informed

One of the many issues plaguing the region’s industrial development agencies is the lack of transparency for what are public dollars.

Evidence of this fact is starkly laid out in News staff reporter Stephen T. Watson’s recent article involving the compensation of IDA chiefs.

The heads of 10 IDAs in New York State earned more than $150,000 last year. The highest paid, it turns out, was not from Long Island or Erie County. Steven G. Hyde, president and CEO of the Genesee County IDA, raked in more than $220,000 last year. He would have been given tens of thousands of dollars more in bonuses, but the practice stopped in 2012 after it was criticized by a state watchdog agency.

The Amherst Industrial Development Agency is paying James J. Allen his full $185,000 salary this year even though he retired in April.

IDAs offer tax incentives and property and mortgage-recording tax breaks that can be worth millions of dollars. The IDAs are able to stay in business and offer generous salaries because they take a cut of the breaks granted to each project. That puts pressure on the agencies to keep the project pipeline full, even with such questionable projects as hotels, medical offices and stores.

The IDAs are spending public money, and whether it is spent doling out tax incentives or executive salaries, there should be a public airing of that spending. Case in point: the decision to give Allen a year’s pay this year for running the Amherst IDA for four months. Maybe the IDA can make a good case for that cushy retirement deal. But we’ll never know because the discussion took place in executive session outside of public view.

The justification for the move was that Allen would be available for consultation for an ongoing lawsuit involving the agency and other projects. But he didn’t perform any work for the IDA after leaving his position.

The salaries of some IDA executives are obscured because their pay comes from multiple sources. Such is the case in Niagara County, where the IDA pays Executive Director Samuel M. Ferraro $58,137, which sounds reasonable except that he also pulls in $114,413 from the county for economic development. At $172,550, his pay ranks sixth in the state.

The public has a right to a detailed understanding of how its money is being spent. Instead, taxpayers are left to plumb information from multiple sources.

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