IDA approve tax break for Afton saw mill

NORWICH – The possibility of keeping 27 jobs and creating nine more is worth giving a company a penalty-free tax break, members of the Chenango County Industrial Development Agency decided Tuesday.

However, according to a report released from former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi’s office in 2005, businesses getting tax breaks and other financial incentives – totaling over $6 million in relief – from the Chenango IDA have a history of not producing jobs.

In fact, as of 2004, the IDA’s 13 project companies have netted a loss of 20 jobs based on their employment figures before and after receiving tax breaks. IDA officials say that’s a result of the economy and not their practices, which are economically “beneficial.”

But as a standard practice, the companies aren’t held to any performance standards, the IDA admits, and don’t have to repay any money if they decide to cut jobs, divest in the business or close their doors.

“We probably don’t check back on them like we should,” said Wayne Outwater, one of five members on the IDA board. “We probably need to do a better job following up on these projects we put out there.”

At a special meeting Tuesday, four members of the IDA voted unanimously to award Wagner Lumber a 10-year, 50 percent tax reprieve – referred to as a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement – that will save the company upwards of $161,000 in sales and property tax for purchasing a saw mill in the Town of Afton.

The vote came one week after Afton residents offered up a heated debate at a second public hearing on the subject. During that hearing, a handful of residents voiced their support of the Wagner PILOT, saying the company would keep and create jobs by taking over the currently-struggling Pomeroy Lumber saw mill, and be an asset to the community based on the company’s track record of operating successful lumber mills in Tioga and Schuyler counties. A host of residents, however, criticized the un-elected IDA for not making businesses meet job creation and investment requirements in exchange for tax exemptions, failing to adequately involve members of the Afton public in the IDA process and giving financial breaks to rich companies that don’t need them.

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