Saturday, February 20, 2016

Wellsville: Former housing official critical of Burrous plan

Susan Szczerbacki is the former Executive Director of Alfred Housing Committee, which administered the village of Wellsville revolving loan fund. Szczerbacki submitted the following statement to Regional News:
I am incredulous the Wellsville Village Board would even dare ask to use the Community Development Block Grant-Small Cities for repairs to the Burrous building. That grant, together with a United States Department of Agriculture Enterprise Development grant, constitute the monies in the Village's revolving loan fund. Only private businesses are eligible for that money, which was specifically earmarked to help businesses – some of which were considered too risky for a conventional bank loan – to grow and create jobs in the community.
The Village of Wellsville can give you a list of businesses that are recipients of that money. This information is all public record and can be easily accessed.  They include businesses like The Beef Haus, l'Italia, The Creative Arts Center, Walker Business Services, Music Alley, Computer Solutions, The Modern Diner, The Chamber of Commerce, The Vogue Shop, the Grand Movie Theatre, Fisher's Pharmacy, LaGra, Harris Supply and many more.  These businesses are viable because they had access to this loan money at two points below prime for 10 years that enabled them to either start or expand their business.  Everyone...EVERYONE was required to pledge collateral for their loan.  If the loan was foreclosed, it was entirely up to the Village Board to attach the borrowers’ collateral.  Some loans were successful, some were not, but that’s the nature of start-ups and expansions. The Village went to great lengths to support the potential in those businesses.
And yes, there most certainly were failures and “bad” loans along the way. People posting here like to cite the “plate factory” (Wellsville China) as a failure of the program, but on paper, that business seemed like a very viable loan with real potential to generate jobs for the area. The owners took out the money in good faith, and made every effort to pay it back, until labor issues and environmental concerns associated with the Wellsville, Ohio, plant doomed the venture.
I know this because I helped write and administer both of those grants and administered the Revolving Loan Fund for the Village.
Now, the Wellsville Village Board wants to sink nearly all the money in the revolving loan fund into what is really (in my opinion) a eyesore with very little chance of ever regaining the funds for use by future businesses. I urge you not to let the Village Board use this hard-won money for something it was never intended to be used. This is not a loan to a business. There is no collateral. Once the money is gone, it’s gone. You won't have any more new businesses and no more expansions.
More than 10 years ago, I had the New York State architect take a look at the Burrows building. He told me it was a lost cause then and not to get involved. I suggest the Village do a new CDBC application under " remove slums and blight" section and leave this existing money to be used for the purpose it was intended. Don’t let the Village Board squander one of your most valuable tools for promoting growth! 
Besides, what's the hurry now?  It's been a lost cause for how many years?  It would be different if there were a firm redevelopment plan, and real investors waiting to take over the project, but that does not appear to be the case.
Thank you for your attention,
Susan Szczerbacki