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By David Robinson

February 19, 2012

The heat is on the Buffalo Niagara region’s industrial development agencies.

After several years of handing out tax break after tax break to stores, restaurants, hotels and urgent care centers –all almost exclusively local projects that promised little in the way of job growth or increased wealth for the region –local IDAs are coming under greater scrutiny from politicians in a position to do something about it.

We’re seeing it at the Erie County IDA, where County Executive Mark Poloncarz has made a point of questioning projects of questionable economic impact...

“The system just doesn’t work,” Poloncarz said after last week’s Erie County IDA meeting...

Just three days after the dust-up at the Erie County IDA came word that Towne Automotive Group wants to build a stand-alone Mini dealership across the street from its current location, and it thinks it deserves tax breaks from the Clarence IDA to help it foot part of the project’s $2.5 million bill.

The sad reality is that too many IDA tax breaks fail to create jobs and economic growth, said Allison Duwe, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Justice. Instead, all they’re doing is shifting business around Erie County — at the taxpayers’ expense.

“They’re giveaways that aren’t really producing a real return,” she said....

But the bigger question — one that IDAs are loath to ask — is whether these strictly local projects would happen even without tax breaks...

[W]ithout a unified policy, a project that passes muster in one community might not get the green light in another. Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary Holtz said that would put communities like hers, which doesn’t have its own IDA, at a competitive disadvantage against towns like Amherst and Hamburg, which have IDAs that have been willing to push the limits of the existing policy.

“We’re competing against ourselves in Erie County,” said Michael Hoffert, an Erie County IDA board member and the president of the Buffalo AFL-CIO Council. “This is nuts.”

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