Think tank targets development agencies

Hilary Smith

The Center for Governmental Research, a Rochester-based research organization, on Wednesday released study results indicating that local development corporations, or LDCs, in general operate without a sufficient degree of public scrutiny.

LDCs are private, not-for-profit corporations that are created by local governments to manage public projects, such as large-scale construction endeavors or the promotion of tourism.

Village of Victor Mayor John Holden expressed his confidence that the Victor Local Development Corporation, one of several LDCs in Ontario County, operates in an open and transparent manner.

“In the village of Victor, the public is well aware of the development corporation,” he said. “We have regularly scheduled open meetings every fourth Tuesday of the month, and we have members of the public at every meeting.”

Ontario County LDCs mentioned in the report include the Finger Lakes Regional Telecommunications Development Corporation, formed in 2005 to develop a high-speed telecommunications network to link area hospitals, clinics, schools and local governments; the Ontario County Four Seasons LDC (now known as the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection), founded in 1994 to promote tourism in the region; and the Ontario Tobacco Asset Securitization Corporation, created in 2004 to handle tobacco settlement revenue. Securitization allows states and counties to get funds from the 1998 national tobacco settlement up front rather than over the 25-year agreement. Essentially, the corporations sell bonds backed by the settlement payments.

Researchers found that, in general, it was difficult for members of the public to learn about LDCs, as there is to date no statewide or local listing of the corporations and many do not have Web sites or phone book listings. For example, the report did not even mention the Victor Local Development Corporation or the Western Ontario Local Community Development Corporation, which serves the towns of Bristol, East Bloomfield and West Bloomfield. The center’s study also found that LDCs are not universally covered by state Open Meetings and Freedom of Information Laws, and they are not universally required to release financial reports.

Based on study results, the Center for Governmental Research recommended that the New York State comptroller conduct a follow-up study on LDCs, and that legislation be passed requiring LDCs to routinely disclose their financial information and comply with open meetings and freedom of information laws.

The entire report is available online at www.cgr.org.

Contact Hilary Smith at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 343 or at hsmith @mpnewspapers.com.