I-Team 10 puts COMIDA under the microscope

Posted at: 04/30/2013 6:08 AM
Updated at: 04/30/2013 11:19 PM
By: Berkeley Brean

Did you know that Monroe County gave away more than $20 million in tax breaks to businesses in one year to either entice that business to Monroe County or just keep it here?

The agency that does this is the County of Monroe's Industrial Development Agency, or COMIDA.

Why do they exempt the taxes? COMIDA says it's to be competitive with counties, states and countries and it says the average return on investment is five to one. So that $20 million turns into $100 million.

Larry Doud, CEO of RDC, said, “Home healthcare dealers and pharmacies that do that business.”

 RDC is a drug co-op in the county that distributes across the entire northeast. About 10 years ago, it got a deal from COMIDA to build an office and warehouse in Chili and paid only a fraction of what its real taxes were.

 News10NBC's Berkeley Brean said, “If you didn't get the COMIDA project, what would have happened?”

 Doud said, “We would have probably leaned more to moving out of state.”

 RDC is paying full taxes now. The contract ended a couple of years ago. With the jobs it created, this is considered a COMIDA success story.

Judy Seil is the executive director of COMIDA. The board is made up of seven people, appointed by the county executive. In 2010, COMIDA approved more than 30 projects (33) resulting in more than $12 million in tax breaks over a decade, but creating or maintaining an estimated $5,500 (5,560) jobs in the county. COMIDA has the final say on these tax breaks, not the county executive or the county legislature.

So who does COMIDA answer to?

Judy Seil, Director, Monroe Co. Planning, Development, said, “I would say they answer to the taxpayers at the end of the day.”

Paul Haney is a democratic county legislator. He doesn't think there's a real check on COMIDA at all. It's certainly not the average taxpayer.

Paul Haney, (D) Monroe Co. Legislator, said, “If you and I went out on the sidewalk right now in front of the county office building and I showed them a report that indicated the county gave away $20.5 million in net tax exemptions, I think people would be shocked.”

So that's what we did.
Here are the facts that COMIDA puts out. Since 2004, it says it's approved 1,100 projects, investing almost $4 billion into the market, creating 16,000 jobs and retaining 7,500 jobs. That's why COMIDA says it makes these deals.

 Seil said, “We need it as a tool. And it's not always that a company is threatening to leave. It's to ensure that they expand and create jobs in our community.”

Haney said, “Yes, there are good situations.  There's also wasteful situations.”

I-Team 10 is putting together examples pointed out to us and we'll show them to you Wednesday on News10NBC at 11. You'll see the case where COMIDA was essentially accused of stealing jobs from Erie County to Monroe County through one of the tax breaks.

To read the state's review on COMIDA and other industrial agencies, click here.