State hires Brian Sanvidge to monitor Orange County Industrial Development Agency

Originally published in Times Union on .
State Sen. James Skoufis announces his proposal for a state-appointed monitor to oversee decisions by the Orange County Industrial Development Agency during a news conference at the IDA’s New Windsor headquarters in February 2023. Skoufis announced on Tuesday that a monitor has been hired.

The state has officially hired a monitor for the Orange County Industrial Development Agency, 10 months after state lawmakers approved the position.

The monitor, Brian Sanvidge, will oversee many IDA decisions, particularly approvals for development projects and tax breaks. He began his three-year term on Monday.

Funding for his position, which falls under the state Offices of the Inspector General, will come from the IDA, as per the terms of the state budget proposal for the monitor from state Sen. James Skoufis that lawmakers approved last year. Though the IDA is focused on boosting economic development projects in Orange County, it is not publicly funded. Its revenue comes from fees charged to companies that apply for financial incentives.

Sanvidge, a certified inspector general and certified fraud examiner, has more than 30 years of experience advising on fraud and forensic investigations and providing litigation support to public and private sector clients. He’s currently the principal of New York-based firm Anchin, where he leads regulatory compliance and investigations. His areas of specialization include construction, transportation, infrastructure, retail, hospitality, not-for-profits, specialty health care and pharmaceuticals, according to a news release from Skoufis’ office.

IDA CEO Bill Fioravanti welcomed Sanvidge’s appointment in a statement to the Times Union.

“Frankly, I’m glad the day is finally here,” he said. “Of course, we never wanted this, simply because it’s completely unwarranted and it’s only being done for someone’s political gain. But now that it’s upon us, I’m looking forward to working with Mr. Sanvidge and with Anchin to ultimately vindicate the IDA and restore our good name that has been wrongly smeared by the senator for nearly three years.”

Fioravanti said he has not confirmed what Sanvidge’s salary will be. The state’s bid proposal for the position listed a maximum salary of $250,000.

The proposal for a monitor — the first of its kind, according to Skoufis — was included in a state budget bill on transportation, economic development and environmental conservation. Local Assemblymembers Jonathan Jacobson, Aileen Gunther and Chris Eachus also supported the measure, which called for creating the job within state government, but not the funding.

“Our Orange County constituents know that many of the IDA’s recent deals have been horrible for their communities and their wallets, and they’ve been clamoring for real and lasting reform,” Skoufis said in a statement.

Skoufis, a Cornwall Democrat and longtime critic of the agency, unveiled the proposal at a news conference at the IDA’s New Windsor headquarters in February 2023. There, he also announced that the state Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, which he chairs, would investigate the IDA’s practices for granting tax break deals, commonly referred to as PILOTs, or payments in lieu of taxes. 

The subsequent five-month Senate committee probe zeroed in on a 15-year, $2.7 million PILOT for Milmar Foods to expand its existing frozen-food business in Goshen. Though Skoufis had referred to it as a “relatively modest PILOT,” he took issue with a portion of the company’s application where a box that asks, “Will this project move forward without the requested incentives?” was checked yes.

Milmar said in the application that proceeding without the PILOT would take longer and may not create as many jobs, since PILOTs mandate hiring a certain percentage of local labor. That is why the IDA granted the tax breaks, Fioravanti previously explained.

But the Senate committee focused on that question in the application, referred to as a “but for” clause, comparing its use by the Orange County IDA to other IDAs in the state, including those in the town of Amherst, city of Auburn, and Chautauqua, Rensselaer, Steuben and Sullivan counties. The committee’s investigation resulted in a criminal referral to the Orange County district attorney’s office.

After the final investigative report was released, Fioravanti defended the IDA’s process for granting PILOTs, noting the investigation did not find the IDA had done anything illegal. He also pointed out the IDA can recapture benefits if developers do not keep the commitments in their applications for tax breaks.

“I think the idea that we and other IDAs can continue to perform an even more robust vetting process, I think there’s something to look at there,” Fioravanti said in August.

He added: “I’m not admitting terrible wrongdoing when I say that we can be better. I’m not afraid to say that.”