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Niagara County IDA holds a public hearing on proposed Amazon project

Audience members raised questions about whether the incentives are worth it to lure 1,000 mostly low-paying jobs.

NIAGARA, N.Y. — It was the public's turn to weigh in on a proposal by Amazon to build a huge state-of-the-art distribution center in Niagara County.

The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency held a public hearing on the project Tuesday afternoon, and the incentives it is prepared to offer to lure one of the nation's biggest businesses to the town of Niagara.

The IDA is proposing an incentive package totaling nearly $124 million in tax breaks for Amazon to bring its 3-million-square-foot, $500 million facility to a more than 200-acre site near the Niagara Falls airport with the promise of 1,000 permanent jobs.

However, as 2 On Your Side reported previously, he vast majority of those jobs proposed will pay $15 per hour.

That will be not  much more than what will be the minimum wage in thias part of New York State by the time the facility may open in 202.

Several who spoke at the public hearing said the county is giving up too much for too little.

"For the life of me, I can't imagine why a multibillion dollar company would be receiving $123 million in tax breaks for jobs where 95 percent of them will be for $31,200 a year," Robert Taylor of Packard Road said.

Members of the Office of Professional Employees International Union were also critical.

"This is disgusting, with how much money this company has, to pay $15 per hour. You can't live off that," said Lynne Brooks of OPEIU Local 153, which is based in New York City.

But not all of organized labor is opposed. Members of the construction trades, for example, stand to benefit quite a bit if the project is built.

"I stand here to support this. It's going to be a lot of work for my members, and there will be good-paying jobs with benefits," said John Scheer, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 234 in Niagara Falls.

While the vast majority of the permanent jobs might not pay much individually, Michael Casale of the Niagara County Department of Economic Development believes that collectively, they will amount to a real shot in the arm for Niagara County.

"Even at the lowest estimates, these 1,000 permanent jobs will equate to approximately $35 million to local families alone, and this number does not include the value of the health care benefits provided on the first day," Casale said.

"This project will provide jobs and opportunity to those who do not possess specific work skills. ... Those in particular who are new to the workforce will gain skills that will be transferable for advancement."

Amazon will also offer a host of benefits to full time workers beyond health insurance, including paternity leave and a 401K.

But Taylor is skeptical.

"They talk about a 401K, but who is going to be able to set aside any amount of a $31,000 a year job to put into a 401K?" he asked.

IDA officials say despite the tax breaks being offered to Amazon, the company would still be paying $49 million in lieu of taxes over the next 15 years, on a parcel that currently generates $26,000 in taxes annually, and which, despite being a state designated "shovel ready" development site for ten years, remains empty.

 

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