Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan is stepping up his pressure on the Clarence Industrial Development Agency to reject tax breaks for a planned new Towne Mini dealership on Main Street and to share details of the requested incentives before the board meets Thursday.
Towne Automotive has applied for financial assistance for a $1.9 million standalone dealership it plans to build across from a facility it now shares with BMW, just east of Transit Road. The project has received development plan approval from town officials.
Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat, has called for IDAs to be more selective in awarding tax breaks. He has urged the Clarence IDA to turn down Towne Mini’s request, contending that the new dealership will be built, anyway, and that the retail project was not a worthwhile use of tax breaks.
Towne has said that the incentives are essential to make the new dealership cost-effective to build and could not promise that the project would go forward without them. David M. Downing, a Towne vice president, has said a new dealership would allow Towne to increase its allocation of Minis, and thus sell more of them and generate additional sales tax revenue. Downing also said the new dealership would generate more property tax revenues and create more jobs at the facility.
The back-and-forth over Mini is part of a broader debate in the county over what types of projects ought to receive IDA benefits and how those tax breaks affect the amount of new revenues localities ultimately receive.
Towne’s request is on the agenda for discussion Thursday, but because the value of the benefits Towne is seeking is less than $100,000, a public hearing was not required, said Lawrence M. Meckler, Clarence IDA co-counsel. “It doesn’t necessarily mean [board members] are going to act Thursday, but they can.”
Meckler said he expects that the public will be given a chance to comment on Towne or other items on the agenda before any votes are taken at Thursday’s monthly meeting, even without a public hearing.
Ryan is also at odds with the Clarence IDA over documents detailing Towne Mini’s request. Ryan has called for those documents to be released before the meeting, citing the Freedom of Information Law; Meckler disagreed, saying that under his reading of the law, the documents do not have to be released in advance. “The application is considered confidential until it is acted upon one way or another,” Meckler said. The Buffalo News’ request for the documents was turned down for that same reason.
Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, could not be reached to comment Monday.
Ryan said that if property, mortgage recording and sales tax breaks for Towne Mini are involved, the decision would affect new revenues for municipalities across the county, not just Clarence. In a letter dated Monday to the Clarence IDA chairman, David C. Hartzell Jr., Ryan assailed the Clarence IDA for “secrecy.”
“The actions by the [Clarence] IDA regarding this deal continue to show that our IDAs are out of control,” Ryan wrote. “You do not have unlimited power, and you are supposed to be held accountable to the public whose tax dollars you are giving away like Monopoly money.”