By Christine Graf
The Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency, a public benefit corporation created to encourage the construction and expansion of industrial and commercial facilities, is a key cog in the economic development efforts in Saratoga County.
Since beginning operations in 1980, the IDA has approved financing arrangements for 119 projects.
“Those are the ones that have been approved and assisted financially. There have been a number that have not even been considered,” said IDA Administrator Michael Valentine. “There is an application process, a review process and certain standards that somebody coming in needing assistance has to go through.”
The application is 30 pages long. Valentine said it is a common misconception that any company that applies to the IDA receives approval. Another misconception relates to financing.
“We don’t give money away. We don’t do loans,” he said.
Instead, they provide financial assistance to businesses through three possible tax incentives. Incentives vary for each client and are determined on a case-by-case basis.
One of the available incentives—the mortgage recording tax exemption—provides a small cost savings to a business, compared to other incentives like the sales tax exemption.
“During construction, there is an exemption on any sales taxes that are associated with purchases for constructing and equipping the facility,” said Valentine. “It’s very, very significant. It’s a way to entice businesses to come to the area.”
The sales tax exemption can apply to everything from parking lot asphalt to building materials and furnishings. There’s a limit to the exemption each company receives, based on the cost of the facility being built or renovated.
Companies may also be entitled to property tax abatements as part of their IDA PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreements. Under a PILOT agreement, some companies pay taxes only on the value of the land. Others pay taxes on the value of the land, as well as a percentage of the cost of the buildings. Companies are not taxed on the full value of land and buildings until the agreements expire.
Before a company can qualify for any of these exemptions, they must deed the land to the IDA. The deed remains with the IDA for the duration of the PILOT agreement.
If a company does not make PILOT payments, the IDA forecloses on the deed and returns it to the business. Once that happens, the business loses tax-exempt status.
“I’ve been here almost 20 years and we have only had two projects foreclosed on,” said Valentine.
According to Valentine, PILOT agreements vary by client. “You can have different formulas or equations based on the type of project that the IDA wants to incentivize. Sometimes it may be a five-year PILOT, and sometimes it may be a 10-year PILOT. But the assessed value on the property never decreases.”
He said the county is especially interested in bringing manufacturing facilities to Saratoga County “because they bring a good number of jobs, and they bring higher-paying jobs.”
The IDA currently has 20 companies they are working with, including GlobalFoundries, and the ACE Hardware and Target distribution centers in Wilton. They also work with smaller projects.
“We don’t get involved in retail or housing projects, like apartment buildings,” he said. “Each IDA is a little different, but there is a state standard. It’s also not all new construction. Some people are in old buildings and move out of them. Some are renovations of existing facilities. Fred’s Tents in Waterford bought a building and rehabbed it. Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga is an existing facility that is being rehabbed.”
The IDA has an extensive review process for new applications. It has a seven-member board appointed by the county Board of Supervisors. In addition to retaining a bond counsel lawyer and a general counsel lawyer, they employ an independent part-time CEO and CFO. Administrative services are provided by the county Planning Department. Valentine works for the Planning Department and devotes a portion of his time to IDA business.
“There’s so much reporting involved with IDAs,” said Valentine. “We may have as few as two or three new projects, but sometimes we are dealing with seven or eight. But there’s an ongoing administrative process all year long. If only three new ones come in and close, you are still working on that backlog of maybe 20 projects.”
In 1969, the state created IDAs to facilitate economic development in specific localities. According to the state comptroller’s office, there are 115 active IDAs, with one in each county, as well as a number of cities, towns and villages. That number has fluctuated over time.
According to Valentine, the future of the state IDAs is uncertain. “There are town IDAs, city IDAs and county IDAs. The state—particularly this governor—talks a lot about getting rid of competing levels of IDAs. Schenectady did that 12 or 15 years ago with the formation of the Schenectady Metroplex.
“They look at it like there are too many levels, and they may have a case on that. The state wants to be the central control because IDAs are independent. They are not a government entity.”
For example, Clifton Park has its own IDA not affiliated with the county’s. Businesses interested in locating in Clifton Park would be referred there if they sought IDA assistance.
The IDA does not solicit applications from businesses. Instead, they rely on the Saratoga Economic Development Corp. and the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership to advertise the benefits of doing business in Saratoga County. Those two entities bring applications to the IDA, said Valentine.
“I don’t go out and solicit applications. That’s their business. They are professionals in economic development. We use them as marketing arms. They are out there canvassing companies and looking for businesses. They are more or less advertising Saratoga County,” he said.
According to Valentine, those agencies receive compensation when an IDA closing takes place. “There is a dollar amount that is an administrative fee that goes to the IDA. We have a fee-split structure with them.”
Before any IDA project receives approval, taxing jurisdictions are notified of the project and public hearings are held.
More information about the IDA can be found at saratogacountyida.com.
By Christine Graf