We need more coordination between the various entities charged with promoting and driving business in Seneca County.
It was a message shared by Seneca County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bob Shipley at last month’s regular meeting. It’s something he’s made a priority in his first three months as chairman.
On Monday, the Planning, Development, Agriculture and Tourism standing committee — within the Board of Supervisors — held a special committee meeting to discuss the future coordination between the those entities.
The three agencies included in discussions were the Seneca County Board of Supervisors, Industrial Development Agency, and Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber of Commerce did not have a representative at the meeting — but most of the discussion hinged around the IDA and their handling of the recent Seneca Army Depot sale.
The sale, which later turned into a lease after some assessment issues — caused a great deal of controversy in the region. Members of the public had questions about the winning bid, the future of the property, and how the IDA board came to choosing that winner.
While Earl Martin, the bid winner and owner of Seneca Ironworks has moved forward with his plans — the controversy around the IDA has not faded.
Romulus Town Supervisor David Kaiser, who chairs the planning committee, pointed out that he’d like to see more coordination between all three parties — echoing Chairman Shipley’s sentiment.
“The complaints haven’t changed,” he explained. “I learned a lot from being on the [IDA] board in the past. There’s a lot that people don’t know,” Kaiser explained. “Not everyone is privy to all the facts and they can’t be expected to.”
Getting facts out to the community is something that the IDA is actively addressing. They began the process of soliciting proposals to address the many communications concerns residents have raised.
Admittedly, members of both boards expressed a combination of frustration and concern over the necessary changes. However, the committee did not come up with a concrete set of guidelines.
Fayette Town Supervisor Cindy Garlick Lorenzetti made eight suggestions to the committee — for allowing supervisors to be better informed on the happenings within the IDA:
— IDA Director Bob Aronson, or other IDA board member be present at all regular, monthly meetings of the board of supervisors;
— Monthly financial update provided to the supervisors at monthly meetings;
— A list of companies that have PILOT agreements, where they stand with the PILOT and how many years remain;
— Identifying if PILOT agreements are up-to-date;
— Checking the number of jobs created against the number of jobs promised when PILOT agreements were granted;
— Holding all public hearings after 5 pm to ensure inclusiveness;
— Creating sub-committees with the IDA to include a chamber representative, two members of the board of supervisors, as well as a member of the IDA board; and
— Filling the vacancy that currently exists on the nine member IDA board, which currently seats eight members.
The committee addressed these concerns, as well as some others — as points of discussion.
The IDA’s executive board, which was present at the committee meeting objected to very little on the list. While the supervisors wanted to see a simplified version of financial reports, which would be released monthly or quarterly — members of the IDA wanted to ensure that the numbers released matched state records.
“We’ve had a problem communicating information,” IDA Chairman Thomas Macinski added during the discussion. All members of the IDA who were present at Monday’s committee meeting said that the primary objective would be getting accurate information out to the public.
Lodi Town Supervisor Lee Davidson echoed Supervisor Lorenzetti’s concerns. “We do get questions about the IDA and sometimes it’s hard to answer them,” he explained. “Sometimes you wonder how you can defend them when you just don’t know.”
Lorenzetti, who served as the supervisors representative on the IDA Board for more than two years — was replaced by Waterloo Supervisor Don Trout.
Trout was not present from Monday’s session.
Thomas Kime, one of those IDA board members said it comes down to making information easier for the public to understand. “We need to provide the information in a way that’s easier to digest,” he explained.
Robert Kernan, treasurer of the IDA expressed some of those frustrations felt by members of the board. “We always seem to be walking on eggshells. I hope we can come together to make a difference.”
If there were two major takeaways from the committee meeting — it was that better communication and providing more useful information for residents in Seneca County were priorities on their ‘to do’ list in the coming months.
One method for filling that vacancy within the IDA included placing the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce on the board. “It’s not that we haven’t worked together. But, we certainly didn’t cooperate like we should have,” Macinski added.
Supervisor Davidson questioned that move. While he didn’t disagree with the idea of the two entities working together — the Lodi Supervisor felt that the vacancy would be better filled if a member of the public took on that role.
The plan would pave the way for the Executive Director of the IDA to be placed on the Chamber of Commerce board.
No formal action was taken during the committee meeting — but the subject is expected to be debated again in the coming weeks.
As County Manager John Sheppard pointed out — given the structure enforced in New York State — the IDA is the only entity in Seneca County able to ‘truly entice’ businesses or development — due to their access to PILOT agreements, tax benefits, and other economic items to drive business.
As for the former Depot sale, which dominated the first part of the conversation around the IDA’s performance — members of both boards felt that there were opportunities left on the table, as it related to communicating with the public better.
Some of the issues though, which are largely perception problems hinge around grading effectiveness. A recent report by the Citizen’s Budget Commission noted that New York ranks highest among tax incentives and packages handed out.
The hope is that the packages and incentives handed out are being given for good reason. Better communication is seen as the vessel to show how those incentives are stacking up and performing, but members of the IDA voiced concerns about the process New York uses to identify success or failure.
It’s unclear what will come next for all three entities.