The Saratoga Springs City Council joined some labor officials and state lawmakers in calling for reform of the state’s industrial development agencies (IDA).
IDAs have the potential to be real economic engines, said Kevin Connolly, vice president of the Saratoga County Labor Council. `However, in many municipalities they are dysfunctional at best and counterproductive at worst.`
He cited an audit performed by the state comptroller’s office that showed IDAs actually created only 36 percent of the jobs they said they would.
`Industrial development agencies are an important economic development tool to promote job creation and retention in our communities and are the main source of economic development subsidies at the local and county level,` read Mayor Valerie Keehn at the Tuesday, May 15, meeting of the Saratoga Springs City Council.
The proclamation continued: `When industrial development agencies do not use taxpayer dollars effectively they fail to provide a good return on public investment; and whereas it is necessary to ensure that businesses receiving financial assistance through industrial development agencies provide quality jobs and services to local communities as these communities are sacrificing needed tax revenue; be it resolved that we, the members of the Saratoga Springs City Council support state reform of industrial development agencies that mandates basic wage and benefits, community, and environmental standards for companies receiving financial assistance from Industrial Development Agencies.`
The proclamation was passed unanimously.
The endorsement came days before a scheduled public hearing on the state’s IDAs, calling for reforms that would make the agencies more accountable for the incentives they approve and ensure IDA-backed projects generate the jobs they are designed to.
Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, hosted the hearing, along with other state lawmakers, as he prepares to introduce an IDA reform bill before the legislative session ends. Portions of the current state law covering IDAs are set to expire at the end of June. According to Keehn, a portion of the General Municipal Law governing the operations of industrial development agencies are scheduled to sunset this year; and the expiration of those provisions provides an opportunity to strengthen the standards, accountability and transparency of industrial development agencies to taxpayers, local governments and school districts.
The Spa City is not the only municipality in the Capital District to take this step. The Albany Common Council joined Saratoga Springs in backing a call for reform of industrial development agencies at its May 21 meeting.
Connolly derided what he perceived to be the Saratoga County’s Industrial Development Agency’s (SCIDA) lack of openness.
`IDA meetings are not well publicized and IDA hearings are not readily accessible to the public,` he said.
SCIDA officials declined to comment before press time, citing a lack of information on the statewide push for reform, but according to the organization’s literature, the SCIDA has assisted 60 companies in their location and/or expansion plans that resulted in the investment of more than $700 million in new plants and facilities within Saratoga County since 1979. Over 5,000 new jobs have been created with an additional 3,000 jobs retained as a result of the SCIDA’s assistance. These jobs represent an annual payroll of approximately $200 million. SCIDA client companies include manufacturers of paper products, chemicals, cans, silicone products, industrial energy control systems, precision valves, windows and doors and many other products. The agency has assisted small start-up firms as well as national corporations. The SCIDA has sponsored a convention center, corporate offices, research and development, hydroelectric generating facilities and, most recently, independent and assisted-living communities for senior citizens.
Some of the reforms that state lawmakers are pushing for are enforcement of penalties for businesses that do not meet agreed upon job retention and creation goals, and giving the public greater input in industrial development agency projects through public hearings and community impact reports.
Keehn, in the city’s proclamation, also said she would like to see an increase in the transparency of industrial development agencies by giving the public access to IDA tax information.“