Tonawanda News

Business

February 16, 2009

BUSINESS: Development community opposes Empire Zone changes

New York Gov. David Paterson’s proposed changes the Empire Zone program have draw a lot of fire from governments and businesses alike, and were the topic of discussion at last Friday’s Ken-Ton Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Among the speakers was Bob Dimmig, who administers the Empire Zone program in both the City and Town of Tonawanda. The main theme in his discussion centered on what he called “real reforms” that were made in 2003 and 2005, changes he contends moved the program closer to its goal of targeting distressed communities.

“The governor’s proposals are not reform,” Dimming said. “The sole objective is to reduce the cost of the program by reducing participation in the program.”

State control of the zones is at the top of the change list. Currently, certifications and boundary changes are approved at local and state levels. Companies are eligible for benefits the day a municipality approves their applications locally, even if it takes the state months to complete their review.

The governor proposes stripping local zones of their role because critics argue that since most of the incentives come from the state, municipalities don’t care who signs up. But Dimmig said the changes made in 2003 and 2005 have already tightened eligibility requirements, put limits on incentives, and focused the program on its core mission. And since the state has the ability to reject local decisions that are not consistent with development plans or state guidelines, he said there is little harm in the expediency that the two-tiered approval systems provides.

“Staffing at the state level is already stretched thin. It takes three months or more to get state approval on applications, and some reviews have stretched for several months,” Dimmig said. “There is no reason to believe they would work any faster if they have sole control.”

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