The Genesee County Legislature voted 5-3 Tuesday night to continue for another year funding GCEDC to the tune of $213,000.
A motion by Legislator Ray Cinanfrini to cut funding by $100,000 unless the GCEDC board declines to pay out bonuses to employees for 2012 failed with only Frank Ferrando and Marianne Clattenburg supporting the proposal.
The motion came after a 90-minute session that included a presentation by GCEDC CEO Steve Hyde about the work of the industrial development agency, a closed session on pending deals and personnel and, finally, a discussion on Cianfrini's motion.
"They're going to pay incentives," Cianfrini said. "They're going to pay incentives, I'm told, out of money other than what we put in for operating expenses, which tells me, they have the money available to pay those incentives. The question arises -- do you need our taxpayer dollars to fund your operation?"
That was exactly the point Hyde made during his presentation. He said that while profits (flowing through the GCEDC's sister nonprofit corporation, the GCLDC) help fund GCEDC's operations fund, the $213,000 provided by county taxpayers is critically important to the GCEDC balancing its $1.2 million operating budget.
Hyde said the money provided by the county helps pay base salaries and is not used for incentive bonuses. The bonuses are paid entirely, he said, out of revenue generated by GCEDC/GCLDC projects.
In 2012, the agency worked on 33 projects that represent $223 million in investment and the promise of 400 jobs, Hyde said.
Since 2003, GCEDC can tally 335 projects, $820 million invested and 3,500 pledged jobs.
Projects that received waivers on property tax increases since then now account for $3.5 million of property tax revenue in the coffers of various government agencies and in 10 years that total will exceed $6.4 million.
The money from the county, Hyde said, can help "remake our community and region and put money back in people's pockets."
Cianfrini's motion received support from two of the City of Batavia's three representatives.
Ferrando said there is no doubt Hyde and his team have done a great job in bringing business to the county and creating jobs, but the problem with the bonuses, he said, isn't about whether they're deserved, but with the political perception by residents.
"There is no way that I can honestly say that the people I represent can seperate what we give to the GCEDC from the bonuses and from the salaries," Ferrando said. "It just isn't going to happen. I don't think that's fair. I certainly don't think it's fair for Steve because he's sitting hear dealing with an issue he shouldn't have to deal with. But as long as that money is tied that way, I don't think there is a public relations program out there will be able to convince them them differently. "
From Clattenburg's perspective, GCEDC just hasn't done enough to help the City of Batavia. She noted that according to census figures, one-fifth of the city's residents live below the poverty level and she doesn't see Hyde and his team doing enough to generate revenue and jobs in the city.
"My territory is counted in streets, not acres, and I walk those streets and I see what the income level of my neighbors are, what their houses are worth and some areas are poorer than others," Clattenburg said. "A long time back you guys had a strategic vision for this county and it's been fulfilled to its hilt. We see it all around us.
"But somewhere along the line this strategic vision did not include us. We represent 25 percent of this county's population in just five miles, so it would be nice to see the governor here."
Ed Dejaneiro, who also represents the city, said that while he agrees there needs to be a break in the perception that taxpayer money is being used to fund bonuses for GCEDC staff, contractional obligations might prevent the board from paying bonuses for 2012.
"There are a lot of very good arguments that were made with respect to public funds and how those public funds are given and how we're looked upon as contributing to incentive payments instead of the nitty-gritty operational or project monies," Dejaneiro said.
"It's hard for us to justify with the public how this money is being spent, but I think the long and short of it is that we like what they're doing. It's a successful agency and it's one that depended on that $213,000 that we were going to contribute."
Legislator Esther Leadley, Robert Bausch, Shelly Stein and Mary Pat Hancock all spoke against Cianfrini's motion to cut funding.
Leadley said there is a false perception floating about that all of the county residents are opposed to the county giving money to GCEDC and the bonuses paid to Hyde and the rest of the staff.
"There is this implication that all of the legislators have received an enormous amount of push back on GCEDC," Leadley said. "I have not. I have heard from some people, but it has not been an absolute rush to condemn this."
Leadley said that executives from the Quaker-Muller yogurt plant have told her that a key factor in PepsiCo picking Genesee County for their facility was that Genesee County and the legislature had "skin in the game," by making a financial contribution to grow the local business community.
Bausch compared Clattenburg's experience with his own. He said when he walks around his community he passes the buildings of two companies that would not have businesses in Genesee County now if not for GCEDC.
"I've heard from constituents on both sides," Bausch said. "When I hear from the negative side, my answer has always been the same as it is now. I wish the bonuses paid were three times the amount because that would mean we had three times the jobs for our community."
Stein, who is the legislature's representative on the GCEDC board, said that it is the business community that creates the jobs that make it possible for government to function, therefore it is critical for the legislature to support GCEDC.
Hancock made the most impassioned defense of GCEDC.
"The particular investment that we have in this organization, one for 16," Hancock said. "One dollar for 16. Do the math. We need skin the game."
She also defended Hyde from some of the public attacks he has been subjected to over the past few years.
"We're always talking about the people who go away to make money and be successful," Hancock said. "We've got somebody here from our own county, from the Batavia School District, that went away, came back and became a big tiger. He's a big dog in his particular area. Where's the pride? That is super. That is super."
UPDATE: Point of clarification, Legislator Annie Lawrence was unable to attend the meeting.