Tax-free zone pitched at SUNY Fredonia

The growth of jobs and the economy is a concern for all governments and New York state is certainly no exception. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to use tax-free zones tied to colleges in the state for increasing job creation was announced Wednesday but still needs legislative approval.

The selling of Cuomo’s proposed NY Tax-Free Program continued Thursday at SUNY Fredonia as Leecia Eve, Deputy Secretary for Economic Development, gave a presentation on the governor’s proposal.

Introduced by SUNY Fredonia President Virginia Horvath, Eve ran through the basics of the proposal and how the tax-free program would work to help create jobs. The plan would include no business or corporate taxes, no sales tax, no property tax, no franchise fees and no income tax for owners or employees. To be eligible, companies must create a net number of new jobs, move in from out of state or be a startup company. Location will also play a part as all SUNY campuses outside of New York City and designated private colleges north of Westchester will be tax free and up to 200,000 square feet surrounding the campus will be included in the tax-free area.

“It really focuses on the primary mission of New York state,” Eve said of the plan. “And what is that? Job creation, jobs, jobs, jobs. There really are no more important issues than jobs.”

Eve talked about the decline of western New York she witnessed growing up in Buffalo, saying it’s been going on for years and it will take a lot to turn things around.

“If we do what we’ve been doing in the past for years and decades by trying to make incremental changes it’s going to take decades for us to turn it around,” she said, adding the governor wants faster change.

Part of that change would be the tax-free proposal which needs approval from the state legislature. When it came time for questions, Eve fielded several.

SUNY Fredonia professor Kevin Kearns played a role in the development of the SUNY Fredonia Technology Incubator located in downtown Dunkirk, some two miles away. He asked if the plan would include those SUNY-owned buildings located off campus in deciding the location limitations of the tax-free zone.

Eve said she couldn’t give a definitive answer.

“What I will tell you is we are intimately aware of that issue and really, frankly applaud the university for doing that because it’s about hoping to revitalize the urban core,” she added. ” All of my colleagues and I, and most importantly the governor, are aware of this issue and I believe it will be appropriately addressed in a way that I think will be consistent with the extraordinary efforts that are under way.”

According to preliminary and unofficial information from SUNY Fredonia’s Office of Facilities Services, the 200,000-square-foot radius converts to approximately 4.59 acres. For the main campus, from the edge of the main entrance off Central Avenue, it could extend as far as the D&F Plaza. From the Lake Way Drive entrance, it would extend to many of the offices located on Brigham Road and Temple Street. Extending from the Incubator, it would cover all land on Central Avenue from Route 5 to the Dunkirk Police Station, as well as parts of the waterfront and some of the offices located on Washington Avenue.

Rick Johnson of Johnson Mackowiak & Associates wanted to know more about the details, saying business clients will be calling for information. Eve said details will be in the legislation once it’s passed and part of her mission was to gather information and hear concerns of people. She added there will be information available shortly.

Jay Warren was a member of the original Dunkirk-Fredonia Economic Development Zone.

“The problem we had was paying for the administration of the zones. There was a ton of paperwork in trying to recertify businesses and working with the businesses to try and get the paperwork in. How are you going to assemble a team to manage it?” he asked.

Eve said it is being looked at already and will require commitment at the staff level. She added the Cuomo administration has already reduced paperwork by going to the Consolidated Funding Application process through the Regional Economic Development Councils.

Eve also fielded a concern about the possible loss of campus space.

“The last thing this proposal is about is modifying the landscape on campus in an inappropriate way. It’s a process of identifying the appropriate land on a campus,” she stated. “On some campuses where the land may not be sufficient, that’s why there’s this buffer zone near the campus to provide that flexibility. This is not something where the state will be dictating. The university president will be playing a critical role in lots of aspects of this proposal.”

After the forum, Eve said the SUNYs will be critical. She added the idea was to focus on businesses already in the state and those that aren’t. She said there were more than 500,000 businesses in the state.

“For those businesses who are going to affiliate with one of the institutions as part of this effort and who are going to grow, who are going to make additional investments and create new jobs, this is not about moving across the street,” she explained. ” … It’s about supporting and accelerating additional investment by existing businesses in the state who have this affiliation with the campuses that are part of the system; and also providing an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime incentive to businesses that are outside the state and maybe in other parts of the world.”

Eve said the plan will not cost taxpayers.

“This is something that has been an intense focus by the division of budget. … It’s not about grant resources, this is not what this is,” she explained. “But even when you take into account tax revenue the state won’t be receiving, without question by any objective measure this is a huge, slam-dunk economic win for the taxpayers of the state, given the significant investment that we know will result when the proposal becomes reality.”

She said there are no provisions as yet concerning the period after the 10 years of tax breaks are up.

“We don’t have concerns about this because the legislation is carefully crafted, we’re putting the final touches on it now, she added. “Any regulations or guidelines that will flow from that are also going to be carefully crafted.”

The legislature, businesses and citizens are waiting for the details of the plan that will, hopefully, result in more private sector jobs in the state.

Comments may be sent to gsnyder@observertoday.com.