LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature voted last week to ask the county’s Industrial Development Agency to withdraw tax benefits from any project that employs illegal immigrants.
The lawmakers also voted to ask the IDA to craft a local hiring policy, although at least one Republican legislator criticized the model that Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, chose for such a policy.
But both resolutions passed unanimously, even though they were brought forward by the Democratic minority.
“This looks like a resolution I wrote. Why wouldn’t I support it?” asked Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, as the immigration measure was being discussed.
IDA Executive Director Samuel M. Ferraro declined to comment through a spokesman, Ben Roberts, who said there wouldn’t be a response until Ferraro had a chance to discuss the issues with the IDA board, which meets Wednesday.
Virtuoso said his resolutions were triggered by published reports that seven illegal immigrants from Guatemala were recently arrested on the construction site of the Greenpac Mill paper mill in Niagara Falls, a project that received not only IDA tax breaks but state economic development incentives.
The mill is owned by Norampac, a Quebec-based company.
“These subsidies are given to these companies to create jobs for our people,” Virtuoso said. “When they start hiring illegal aliens … they should be able to lose their subsidies.”
“If the IDA can do something to keep this from happening, they should do it,” Updegrove said.
The resolution also was sent to state development agencies, asking them to take similar steps.
A request for a good local hiring policy also was sent to the IDA by the Legislature.
“We have a quiet policy on local hire. There’s no real teeth in it,” Virtuoso said.
The Monroe County IDA demands that all projects it backs must hire all their workers from within a nine-county area around Rochester. Waivers are permitted in certain circumstances, but since the policy was adopted in 2004, only 53 of 367 construction projects have requested waivers.
Virtuoso’s resolution said the Niagara County IDA should have a policy similar to Monroe’s, but Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, called him on that.
“I think we should restrict it to Niagara County,” Wojtaszek said. “‘Similar to Monroe’s nine counties.”
“The language in their policy is all I wanted,” Virtuoso said.
Legislator Jason A. Zona, D-Niagara Falls, said if the IDA doesn’t deliver a local hiring policy, the Legislature could impose one by means of a local law.
In other matters last week, the Legislature:
• Passed Virtuoso’s resolution to create a special committee to study how the county could implement a requirement that all rental housing offered to welfare clients be preinspected for code compliance.
• Adopted a proposal from Refuse District Director Dawn M. Timm to close the district’s construction and demolition landfill. The last day to dump there will be July 3, and a temporary soil cover will be installed by Aug. 16. A permanent cap will be laid next year.
Unanimously passed a resolution opposing state legislation to restrict the use of Niagara River Greenway funding to a strip along the river. Under current rules, the entire county is eligible for such funding.
• Passed a resolution by Republicans Michael A. Hill, of Hartland, and John Syracuse, of Newfane, calling for counties to be allowed to opt out of state-mandated early voting and calling for the state to pay the cost of the program.
• Approved a request from Niagara Falls’ Isaiah 61 Project, a faith-based group rebuilding abandoned homes in that city, for funds from the Western New York Power Proceeds Allocation Board, which passes out money the New York Power Authority earns by selling Niagara Power Project electricity that went unused by local industry.