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State affirms tax move in Tonawanda dispute

By Samantha Maziarz Christmann

April 24, 2012

The County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency broke no laws when it gave a company tax breaks to add jobs in Henrietta after terminating jobs at a sister company here, according to a state report released Monday.

VWR Education received tax breaks earlier this year from the Monroe County IDA for adding seven jobs to its Ward’s Natural Science plant near Rochester. The same company closed the majority of its Science Kit facility in the Town of Tonawanda late last year, putting 41 people out of work.

The layoffs came days after a 15- year package of tax benefits granted to the East Park Drive company by the Erie County Industrial Development Agency expired.

That prompted several state and county legislators, as well as labor and advocacy groups, to file a complaint with the New York State Authorities Budget Office, which provides oversight of public authorities.

Critics accused VWR of merely shifting work from one New York county to another — leaving a net loss in jobs rather than growth — and asked that the company not receive any further tax benefits.

But the Authorities Budget Office concluded that the company’s Tonawanda layoffs and Henrietta additions followed long-standing patterns of employment at both facilities and weren’t related to a shuffling of jobs.

The report also stated that the Monroe IDA committed no wrongdoing because it didn’t condition its tax breaks on VWR shifting work from Tonawanda to Henrietta and because VWR still has some office staff at the Tonawanda facility.

“Based on our examination of the record, interviews with officials from both industrial development agencies and our understanding of these judicial rulings, we have concluded that COMIDA did not violate key elements of [the law],” the report said.

But advocacy groups said the laws governing economic-development agencies are so flawed that, in order to prove that any job piracy was committed, VWR would have had to come right out and admit that it shifted jobs out of Erie County and into Monroe County for purposes of the tax break.

“We’re disappointed with the ABO’s findings, but more importantly, we’re disappointed by what it reflects — that loopholes exist that allow VWR and companies like it to shift jobs around New York State at taxpayer expense,” said Allison K. Duwe, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Justice, one of the groups that filed the original complaint.

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