Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

April 7, 2013

Lawmaker questions Yahoo! fund

By Joyce M. Miles
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — A Lockport-area county legislator called attention this week to a provision in Yahoo!’s agreement with the state requiring the company to funnel funds to an area charitable foundation in exchange for receiving state tax credits and a hydropower allocation.

The agreement requires Yahoo! to pay $500,000 per year, for seven years, into a fund managed by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. Charitable disbursements are to be approved by Empire State Development.

Niagara County Legislator Richard Updegrove, R-Lockport, publicly questioned why payments should go to the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo, apparently assuming the foundation serves “greater Buffalo” only.

“While I certainly appreciate the fact that Buffalo is facing its share of challenges, the reality is that we need to look at a fair and equitable disbursement of those funds so that the people of Niagara County may also benefit,” Updegrove, the legislature’s majority caucus leader, said a in press release prepared by the legislature’s public information office. “These monies could further enhance the quality of life for the residents of Niagara County and make us more attractive for businesses looking to locate or expand here.” 

The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo awarded $800,000 in grants to charitable endeavors in Niagara County over the past 15 months, according to Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, president and CEO.

C.F.G.B. is a public charity chartered to serve the eight counties of Western New York. It manages the assets of more than 750 trusts in the region, including the YWCA of Niagara’s endowment and funds of the Niagara Area Foundation, a charity formed by Niagara County residents.

Last year N.A.F. awarded $75,000 in competitive grants to educational, cultural and human services organizations throughout the county, making N.A.F. only one source of Community Foundation giving to Niagara, according to Dedecker.

“We are regional. We have for years been doing tremendous things in Niagara County,” she said.

Yahoo! will set up a charitable fund through the Community Foundation as part of the deal it struck to get 7.2 megawatts of low-cost hydropower, and up to $2 million in state Excelsior tax credits, for Lockport data center expansion and opening of a call center next door. One hundred fifteen new jobs are in the offing, the company says.

Establishment of a charitable fund through the Community Foundation is per Yahoo!’s request, according to Pete Gallivan, acting spokesman for the ESD Western New York region.

In the course of negotiating a Community Benefits Agreement with the state, Yahoo! representatives “wanted to put (money) in a community fund rather than give it to Empire State Development,” he said.

Disbursements from the fund are to be approved by a committee of ESD representatives with “advisement” from Yahoo!, Gallivan said.

Eligibility criteria for Yahoo! grants are to be determined by ESD and the Community Foundation jointly. Generally, according to Gallivan, money will go to projects and programs that are in line with the economic development priorities of the five-county Western New York regional council: supporting job readiness, smart growth, entrepreneurship, and building up target industries such as advanced manufacturing, agriculture, logistics, life sciences and tourism.

Counties in the ESD Western New York region are Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara, which will receive a “special focus” from the Yahoo! grant committee, Gallivan added.