Resigned IDA Board Members Face Off with Legislature

Resigned IDA chairman Richard Ruchala spoke at last week’s committee meeting.
Resigned IDA chairman Richard Ruchala spoke at last week’s committee meeting.

After the entire Industrial Development Agency board stepped down last month, some board members came in front of Putnam legislators last week with the possibility of those resignations being pulled back.

IDA chairman and Brewster resident Richard Ruchala said he would reconsider his resignation if the county administration decides to release $75,000 to the IDA, though he couldn’t speak for the rest of the board. Lawmakers on the Economic Development Committee voted to send a letter to the county executive office urging them to give funds to the IDA.

“The check should have been delivered by now,” Ruchala said in an interview. “I have no idea why they’re delaying what obviously is necessary.”

Despite the resignations, every IDA board member is still technically on the board until replacements are found. County Executive MaryEllen Odell has been against giving the IDA funds because she believes they can be self sustaining. IDA board members claim new regulations make that impossible.

Legislator Roger Gross said the resignations stem from a lack of county government support and the agency can’t compete with other counties if they don’t have the necessary funds. There are also several projects in the pipeline that are now stalled since the mass withdrawal took place last month, he said.

Legislator Dini LoBue said for two years the IDA board came to the county Legislature in need of help with little luck. She described the IDA as the incentive arm crucial to reeling businesses in. The IDA has outlined the projects they’ve worked on and fulfilled requirements from the state, she added.

“I think it’s a disgrace and an embarrassment to the county,” LoBue said. “How can you talk about economic development without supporting the IDA.”

LoBue said there are sales tax abatements connected to the Butterfield redevelopment that could be  affected if the IDA doesn’t get up and running. Legislators should move quickly and unanimously to resolve any issues, LoBue said.

Legislator Ginny Nacerino said the IDA board resigned before the lawmakers could talk with them about releasing funds currently in sub-contingency. But Ruchala mentioned how Economic Development meetings in June and July were both cancelled and then again in October and December. Ruchala said he requested an emergency meeting that wasn’t ultimately held.

Legislators Carl Albano and Barbara Scuccimarra both renewed their call for the IDA to present a business plan before the money is released. Albano said “if there’s not tremendous potential” then the county should not fund it.

Legislator Toni Addonizio reminded other lawmakers the IDA legally must stay intact until 2041 because of tax abatement deals it’s made.

“We don’t really have a choice,” she said. “We’re at a crossroads and we need to figure something out.”

Ruchala said “the straw that broke the camel’s back” is when the county opted to give a local development corporation to Dutchess County without any concrete information provided, noting “Dutchess County, in all truth, has no interest in your interest.”

“I think every part of economic development has been destroyed in this county,” Ruchala said. “And now you have to regroup it.”

Ruchala said he thinks the IDA should be the “top dog in the group” and the Economic Development Corporation should be a advisory council and the money given to the EDC should go to the IDA instead. He noted how the IDA has more complexities than the EDC like putting together certain reports for the state.

The IDA, EDC and tourism should all be housed at 34 Gleneida, instead of the latter two being stuck on third floor of the county office building, Ruchala said.

“You need to think smarter and less expensively,” Ruchala said.

Ruchala said $75,000 would not be enough for this year, with much of the money going toward a CEO. With the increased regulations facing IDAs statewide since 2008, it has made it difficult for those agencies to operate effectively.

IDA board member Bill Nulk said he’s come before the legislature many times telling them the IDA needs to reorganize because the IDA is a “critical part of the economic team.”

Economic Development Corporation president Jill Varricchio noted the EDC and IDA work hand in glove and it might be better to put the two agencies under one umbrella.

“When opportunities knocking and (businesses) are looking for incentives, what do we do,” she said. “One of the tools in the toolbox should be, has to be, at least most of the time is an IDA.”

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