ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday appointed his members of a panel that will distribute economic development grants in Western New York, moving along a process that has been stalled the past year.
The New York Power Proceeds Allocation Board, created last March, will be activated now that the governor has named a chairman and members to the panel. It is charged with dispensing money to create jobs in a 30-mile radius of the Niagara Power Project in Lewiston.
Cuomo named Anthony Colucci, managing attorney of Buffalo’s Colucci & Gallaher law firm, as chairman.
Deanna Brennan, president of the Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce, and Brenda McDuffie, president of the Buffalo Urban League, will also be on the board, the administration said.
“I look forward to working with them as we continue to foster economic growth in Western New York and throughout the state,” Cuomo said in a statement.
The Buffalo News two weeks ago reported that the administration’s failure to fill the positions has prevented the economic development program from getting started.
Business groups for a decade lobbied to create the funding initiative, which gets its money from a program that provides low-cost hydropower to companies within a 30-mile radius of the state-owned Lewiston plant. Previously, revenues from power not used were essentially funneled back to the New York Power Authority. The new law now provides a cash payment each year for the power not used locally.
More than $20 million has accumulated since the program was created, and lawmakers believe as much as $17 million a year could be raised – depending on the cost of hydropower and how many companies end up using the low-cost power in the region.
The funding has a wide range of possible uses if the board determines the projects “support the growth of business.” Certain businesses, such as retail outlets, cannot receive the funds, but money can go for investments in buildings, equipment, land purchases, research and tourism ad campaigns.
Cuomo said the new board will work with the regional economic development council – a group that advises the state on how to steer job creation efforts – to award grants.
The State Senate and Assembly also get one seat apiece on the new board; names of their appointees have been sent to the governor, lawmakers said, but not yet announced. Assemblymen Robin Schimminger, a Kenmore Democrat, and Dennis Gabryszak, a Cheektowaga Democrat, recently wrote to Cuomo urging him to name his appointments so the panel could start distributing funds.
While the Assembly and Senate have not had their nominees officially appointed, Schimminger said the Assembly has selected Dennis Elsenbeck, National Grid’s top Western New York executive; Schimminger credited Elsenbeck with coming up with the funding idea originally years ago. Sources say the Senate has tapped former Niagara County GOP Chairman Henry Wojtaszek.
Sources said the board’s creation has been slowed by difficulty in finding volunteers who also are willing to publicly identify information about their personal finances as required under the state’s ethics laws.
The head of a local business group, which has raised concerns about the slow pace of forming the board, said the new panel will now have to come up with a set of rules for how funds will be disbursed.
“We’re glad this is finally happening, because, as we keep saying, it’s been 10 months, and the money is there, and there are projects that are clearly interested and appropriate for it,’’ said Andrew Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. “This is a welcomed, critical step forward.”
Schimminger praised Cuomo’s selections. “I’m happy the board can move forward in effectuating the provisions of the proceeds act.
This will mean that unused and unallocated replacement and expansion power proceeds can be applied to deserving projects right here in Western New York,’’ Schimminger said.
Gabryszak called it a “good, professional board.’’
“I expect they’ll put together some good work and start using that $20 million for good economic development projects,’’ the lawmaker said.