County auditors conducting a recent review of Onondaga County’s Economic Development Office were denied access to PILOT agreements, an important source of revenue. The Payments in Lieu of Taxes are one of the most common incentives requested by…and granted to developers to defray property taxes on projects large and small. You might recall Destiny USA’s controversial 30-year deal.
Then there’s a proposed day care in Clay that recently dropped its request. County Comptroller Matthew Beadnell says the previous director of economic development didn’t allow auditors to see the records.
"The county should know the vast majority of the agreements that are out there for PILOT payments, and we should have a pretty good understanding of what money we will receive during the course of the year. We gave opportunity for explanation for these findings before we released the audit. We were hoping we'd get a little more information with that. Unfortunately, we did not."
Beadnell says auditors were able to gather some information using the budget and receipts of PILOT payments. He says having access to the PILOT agreements and their payment schedules will help close the disconnect between what’s been budgeted and what actually comes in. Beadnell says new director Robert Petrovich has been far more cooperative than former director Julie Cerio, who served under the Mahoney administration. Agencies such as the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency or OCIDA, and the Civic Development Corporation fall under the economic development umbrella.
"In the past, there's been some discrepancies between the county executive not thinking we have the authority to look at certain IDAs. We're under the impression that if a county employee is working on an IDA, we should have the ability to look at those records."
The comptroller says there was also a lack of a system to capture the cost of management and support services to the economic development agencies.
"Since the new director has come in, there actually are formal, written signed contracts with these agencies. We now have a better understanding of what we can be reimbursed for at the county level for the office of economic development from these agencies."
Beadnell says the audit began in late 2018 and continued into early 2019. He says departmental audits are routine…and the ultimate goal is to better serve taxpayers by finding ways to improve efficiency accountability.