Legislature needs to hold GCEDC accountable
I don't think many would disagree that we all want a robust and aggressive job-creating engine in Genesee County. We also can agree that unfair tax burdens created the need for IDAs with their enticements and tax incentives in the first place.
In the big picture, we all want our county to be chosen as the next home to companies like: Barilla Pasta, Google, Yahoo or Geico -- and without an IDA we don't compete at all.
Even the smaller companies with a vision to produce a new product or service can help make our county vibrant and offer those vitally important, but few and far between, living wage job opportunities. Jobs that can lift our median income and bring some of our citizens their own little piece of prosperity-- the kind that bring money to other businesses by circulating it around our communities.
The jury is still out on how I perceive the GCEDC's, or any IDA's performance. But I do firmly believe that more stringent oversight on pay rates and elimination of performance bonuses needs to swiftly be put in place by the Legislature to restore the public's trust. I'm also curious about the $500 bonus given to a consultant.
I, too, am a small business owner and, although I won't be creating any jobs other than my own and have no need for a shovel-ready site, I know that I prosper with my business when Genesee County is prospering. I've talked to a few people whom I admire and respect who also own their own businesses. They made some points that make a whole lot of sense.
What if the bonus money and inflated salaries had been allocated and/or redirected for infrastructure or start-up rent subsidies? Phase two of the county water deal is in limbo.
In my own town, we have a great location on Route 19 at the 490/90 interchange. The property known as Oatka Hills has sat empty for years, and for the last several years has had a "For Sale" sign with the GCEDC logo on it. It lacks the infrastructure and utilities and even though the location has so much potential, it sits empty.
Bringing in utilities is an expensive undertaking. Funds being used to pay large bonuses and inflated salaries could, and should, serve more people than just the privileged few who work at the GCEDC. Another alternative is using the bonus money to subsidize rent for start-up businesses that are taking a chance on our main streets -- something the Orleans County IDA is doing.
As the leader of the Genesee County Democratic Party, I have had the opportunity to work closely with candidates running for office at several levels. Invariably, when we've had state and some local candidates running, IDA reform has come up in their campaigns. Like Senator Mike Ranzenhofer, some candidates have come from Erie County with their knowledge on the subject, reflecting what they experience in their own backyard.
And from our local media, and the promising GCEDC press releases, we have always been led to believe that it was different here -- that our IDA was accountable and delivered the goods. I always cringed when our candidates made their opinions on this issue public, waiting for the swift redress that came from one particularly vocal legislator, and occasionally from the local press. This made wading into reform almost a certain political misstep.
For my own complacency about this subject, I apologize. Healthy opposition is needed over some issues and should translate into vigorous debates which show alternatives to the status quo and maybe uncover some things that need correcting in the process.
As a citizen, I am calling on the county legislators to take the responsibility they have been given by the people who have entrusted them. Their responses to date have been very disappointing and show a disconnect.
Our county's median income is around $33,000. We have more rentals in two of our larger population centers than owner-occupied properties, many of our villages have more empty storefronts than filled ones, and our population stands at around 57,000 and dropping.
If crime goes down, there is no bonus check for Sheriff Gary Maha. If road repairs for a given year come in under budget, the windfall doesn't go back to Tim Hens, the county highway superintendent. It is the responsibility of the governing body to hold all public entities accountable, including the GCEDC.