City: What would you do differently from the Johnson administration when it comes to economic development?
Mains: I have an aggressive plan to use tax reform and a specific tax proposal to leverage economic development to create an incentive. Rochester has a two-tier homestead rate. There's single-family residential of one to three units, and the second level is non-homestead commercial properties. The non-homestead rates are double the rates for homestead, and I believe that creates a disincentive to investment. Rochester is one of the few cities with this two-rate system. I propose a third tier that I call my "Pioneer Tax Plan." It's really a bridge until we can go to one rate.
What I'm proposing is a rate that is available to commercial properties. If you buy a property for $100,000 and invest another $100,000 in rehab, making it worth $200,000, you would be paying the lower homestead tax rate. You would not be gouged at the higher non-homestead rate. It is revenue-neutral for the city. I can't make this change on my own. I do need state approval, but I am confident that it can be done.
The city's economic development department takes a lot of heat for being more about regulation than development. We've heard several times that it can think of lots of reasons not to do something. Do you believe those criticisms are fair? If so, what would you do about them?
The reality is that some of the criticisms are fair, some are not. When there are problems, they tend to be environmental. Developing land in Henrietta often doesn't have the same environmental challenges as in the city. But we need to convey a message that the city of Rochester is open for business.
I think the Pioneer Tax Plan can go a long way toward supporting development. But we need folks in that department who can work as a team and manage projects, not processes. Let's say that a nail salon operator wants to open another shop. That person should be assigned a project leader who helps get it through the system. There should only be three steps: certificate of use, the city has to validate the owner's license, and we have to check the zoning code. It shouldn't take 10 to 15 days. It shouldn't take more than two. Some projects are very large and complicated, so I can't promise that across the board. But the more that we can provide encouragement to business people, the more we are helping our own economy.
Would you support city tax incentives to spur business development?
Let's say that I buy a property for $50,000 and it's a mess, and it's riddled with lead paint. It's so bad that I can't salvage it. I have to rip it down and build new. Now it's worth $90,000, and I have to pay taxes on $90,000. But in order to protect that investment --- because it does generate jobs --- those residential owners who have made that investment should be allowed to take that increased value and spread that tax impact over five years.
Would you spend city money on preparing development-ready sites, dealing with environmental problems to get them ready?
I am certainly not opposed to the city doing three different things: land assemblage, environmental remediation, and in some situations, the city being the developer. It could be an arm of the city government like the Rochester Economic Development Corp. (REDCO).
What, if anything, should be changed in the relationship between the various economic-development bodies throughout Monroe County?
There needs to be much tighter coordination. I have been talking about a continuum that is both inter- and intra-governmental offices. That continuum is about what I call the Four C's: Communication, Cooperation, Collaboration, and Consolidation. What happens is everyone talks about collaboration, but they forget about how you get there.
If everyone is communicating on a consistent and regular basis, we will uncover the opportunities to collaborate and consolidate. I'm not just talking about government either --- I will expect my office to communicate regularly with all the other entities that play a role in economic development.
What would you do to provide jobs for the unemployed?
The Hillside Work-Scholarship program is good, but it is an expensive program. I am going to be a strong advocate for engaging the business community to help provide those kinds of work-study programs because the place where job opportunity is the most vulnerable is for young minorities, particularly young black and Hispanic men.
For older workers, I would use a different model. Instead of training people to fill a job that isn't there, I would work with the private sector at identifying existing job vacancies and we would train specifically for that job.