Is The County IDA Watching Over Any Of Your Money?
It will be interesting to see the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency’s response to a state audit by the Authorities Budget Office.
That report made 42 recommendations for the IDA to improve its operations, including co-mingling of the IDA, Chautauqua Regional Economic Development Committee and Chautauqua County Capital Resource Corp. into one bank account, $130,785 in CCIDA funds used for inappropriate and questionable discretionary spending, including sponsorships, donations, holiday dinners, flowers, and other gifts; $73,115 in CCIDA credit card purchases made without receipts or adequate documentation, as well as the use of credit cards for $26,000 in inappropriate meal purchases and $11,194 in unauthorized purchases for another local authority; $50,629 of unauthorized and inappropriate CCIDA payments to the chief financial officer, including $30,600 in car allowances and $18,429 in reimbursements for membership and other related expenses at a local golf course; and $200,179 in compensation to CCIDA staff that were contracted or hired by the CEO to administer and operate another local authority.;
IDA board members also allegedly have allowed committee approval to send projects to a public hearing as opposed to a full board vote; have entered into executive session illegally roughly 57% of the time and haven’t been billing Payments In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOTs) to ensure each PILOT was paid by its agreed upon due date and remitted to taxing jurisdictions within 30 days. CCIDA also did not pay late penalties for PILOTs not paid by the due date and/or held more than 30 days, as required by General Municipal Law.
Mark Geise, county IDA director and deputy county executive for economic development, said the IDA hasn’t had a chance yet to respond to the Authorities Budget Office, and will respond and make changes once it does so. That response will be interesting, particularly in areas where money is involved. We don’t know if there are good reasons for some of the excess spending that seems excessive from the outside looking in, nor do we know if there are agreements between the IDA and employees that explain car allowances and membership reimbursements.
At first glance, though, this draft report certainly casts the IDA in a bad light and begs this question — if the IDA isn’t able to document its spending, just how carefully is it evaluating businesses coming before the board looking for millions of dollars in publicly-backed loans? That question, rather than anything the IDA has actually done, may be the most damaging result of the state’s audit.