Move follows Cuomo veto
by Christian W. Peck
Public Information Officer
Niagara County Public Information Office
Niagara County lawmakers unanimously called on state legislators to overcome Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's veto of legislation renewing the state's dozen-year-old brownfield cleanup program, which effectively canceled a set of tax credits that has spurred more than half a billion dollars in private investment in Niagara County.
The move follows Sunday statements by the Cuomo administration that renewal of the tax credit program would receive the governor's backing, but only in severely financially distressed areas of the state. Cuomo previously vetoed a bipartisan bill passed by both the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate extending the program Dec. 29, six months after both houses voted to extend the robust, successful tax credit program.
Niagara County's actions also come on the heels of the rollout of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership's regional agenda, which declared renewal of the program a "top regional economic development priority."
During the agenda's unveiling last week, Partnership President and CEO Dottie Gallagher-Cohen noted that, for every dollar in tax credits granted for brownfield cleanup, $10 in private investment followed - a statistic cited in the county's resolution urging Cuomo and state lawmakers to renew the brownfield program in its current form, not the severely curtailed version Cuomo is advocating.
"We've urged our state delegation to take swift action to extend the brownfield cleanup program and include it in the 2015-16 state budget," said Legislature Economic Development Committee Chairman Rick Updegrove, R-Lockport. "The New York state brownfield cleanup program is an important economic development program that has been utilized to remediate contaminated land with private capital. Unfortunately, the program is set to expire in December."
County economic development officials noted that, as the program relies on tax credits, there are no actual costs to state taxpayers, as all cleanup work is accomplished through private investment. To incentivize this activity, state and local governments take a longer path to realizing tax revenues from sites that require environmental rehabilitation, providing tax credits to businesses that undertake brownfield rehabilitation efforts. This carrot-and-stick approach was first added to the state's environmental conservation law in 2003.
To highlight the fallout from Cuomo's veto, Updegrove and County Senior Planner Amy Fisk provided a detailed review of the county's successful utilization of the existing brownfield cleanup legislation. Fisk noted that, to date, the Niagara County brownfield cleanup program had seen $590 million in private capital investment in the county and the creation of 969 new jobs.
Brownfield cleanup efforts have been completed in the cities of Niagara Falls, Lockport and North Tonawanda. The county is awaiting completion of five additional projects under the brownfield cleanup program that would see an additional $54 million private investment and the creation of 109 new jobs, which have been jeopardized by Cuomo's veto, as projects must be complete by Dec. 31 to receive tax credits.
"The remediation and subsequent redevelopment of brownfield sites returns vacant and underutilized property back to productive use, generates new tax revenues, creates new jobs and improves the quality of life for Niagara County residents," Updegrove said. "This is the right course of action for our environment and for job creation, and we are urging our state delegation to take the steps necessary to preserve ongoing environmental rehabilitation efforts in Niagara County."
Fisk's PowerPoint presentation, including detailed information about ongoing county brownfield cleanup efforts and private investment arising from these cleanups, can be downloaded here in PDF format.