William Clay (left) and Joe O’Brien (right) are now the Legislature’s representatives on the Albany County IDA. Submitted photo
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ALBANY — County legislators approved a series of appointments to various committees, most of which were uncontested, during their monthly meeting on Monday, July 9.
The replacement of Legislator Gary Domalewicz, D-albany, who chaired the county’s Industrial Development Agency for 12 years, however, caused some conversation and was opposed by three members, including Domalewicz himself.
According to Chairman Andrew Joyce, D-Albany, the decision for the change was a desire to approach economic development differently.
“There’s been a distinct lack of effort and imagination on economic development and sustainability in Albany County,” he said. “I’ve been hearing the word ‘can’t’ frequently in regards to what’s possible.”
Four newly appointed members, including Legislator Joe O’Brien, D-Colonie, will be joining three existing members as Domalewicz and outgoing IDA member Gene Messercola leave.
“It’s my hope,” said Joyce, “that he and the rest of the board, both old and new, can help us rethink the IDA’s role.”
The Albany County IDA is a not-for-profit public benefit corporation of New York state. Its primary goal is to encourage economic growth and expansion through financial incentives, thus advancing the job opportunities, general prosperity and economic welfare of county residents. This is accomplished by offering businesses financial incentives in the form of tax-exempt and taxable bonds to cover the cost of construction, rehabilitation, and equipping for a wide range of commercial and industrial projects.
IDA-approved projects are exempt from sales and mortgage recording taxes, and real property tax abatement can also be offered. These exemptions enable the IDA to lower the cost of undertaking and financing a project.
“The Albany County IDA needs to be as open and transparent as possible,” said O’Brien. “Other IDAs in the area provide much more information to the public. And not just regarding the activities the board takes. They also share information about the investment opportunities that exist in Albany County. So should we.”
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” said Domalewicz, calling O’Brien “inexperienced.”
“We have everything on our website,” Domalewicz said. “Everything. We are more open than any IDA in the state. We have never gotten a letter from the [Authorities Budget Office] in the state comptroller’s office; we’ve always filed everything on time; and we have everything online.”
Legislator Alison McLean Lane, D-Colonie, said she would tend to agree. “After Colonie had a bad audit from the ABO,” she said, “I took a very close look at our IDA and it has never received a single negative audit from ABO/OSC. It has filed all the state-required reporting and publishes all their documents on the website.
“These IDAs are under significant state scrutiny now because they deal with significant public funds,” she said.
According to the Office of the State Comptroller, provisions of the General Municipal Law require each IDA to establish a uniform tax exemption policy with input from affected tax jurisdictions and to provide guidelines for claiming real property tax, mortgage recording tax and sales tax exemptions.
Domalewicz said current leadership in the Legislature wants to spend the $2.7 million in reserved funds on projects that the state comptroller does not allow, and his replacement is an attempt to sidestep existing obstacles.
“They’re thinking they want to spend it on different projects to promote themselves around the county,” he said. “Which you can’t do. The way the IDA funds are spent are dictated by the ABO.”
Domalewicz said that the funds have accumulated over the years through fees on projects the IDA has undertaken but were never spent because of state regulations. “Every time we went to spend something, I would get an opinion from my counsel and he would contact the ABO to see if we could do it and there were a couple of times that we couldn’t do it and had to say no—and that upset a few people. That’s what this is all about.”
He lamented failed state legislation that would have enabled the IDA to offer loans and grants to business projects, which he said would have made it easier to spend the accrued funds.
“The Albany County IDA needs to work harder and smarter to identify investment opportunities in areas where no local IDA exists,” said O’Brien. “We should not be looking to duplicate the effort of any of the seven local IDAs in Albany County. But we should be working very hard to identify investment and development opportunities outside those seven areas. Finally, we need to work with the county executive on moving the county forward on business development.”
According to Joyce, the other three members that were appointed represent areas that have no local IDA. The new members are: Marlene McTigue of Coeymans Hollow, a multi-media consultant for Columbia-Greene Media; Douglas Roether of East Berne, a “semi-retired” electrician who currently serves as an associate director at a private venture capital group and manages and invests in real estate; and Anton Dreslin of Voorheesville, an IT director for the state and vice-president of Bank of America.
“Excuse making, political games have held us back from our full potential for far too long,” said Joyce. “It’s time for a new approach.”
Domalewicz said he was opposing the appointments because there was no labor representation. “On the IDA we’ve always had a member for labor on that board,” he said prior to the vote. “I don’t see anybody from labor on this board tonight. Labor will not have a voice at that table for the first time that I can remember.”
Joyce responded that he had asked Legislator Doug Bullock, D-Albany, who co-chairs the Labor Task Force, to reach out to the labor community for input regarding the changes the IDA is undergoing. He also noted that IDA member and Legislator William Clay, D-Albany, has a background in labor.
A number of members thanked Domalewicz for his service on the IDA before the body voted to approve the appointments. McLean Lane and Joanne Cunningham (D-Delmar) joined Domalewicz in opposing the appointments.
“I wanted there to be a labor representative on the IDA,” said McLean Lane.
Domalewicz still serves as chair of the Albany County Capital Resource Corporation, which works solely with non-profits and has $1.5 million in reserve funds. “When I first got there they had $5,000,” he said of the CRC and IDA. “I turned it into $4.2 million.”
Records on the IDA website are only available as far back as 2012, but show that the public benefit corporation had $802,369 in net assets at the end of that year.