May 02, 2007 Martha E. Conway Uncategorized
Members of the Madison County Board of Supervisors’ planning committee heard numerous presentations on a variety of topics at its April 25 meeting. The proposed Heritage Park acquisition, economic development zone coordinator issues, a rural land preservation initiative, proposed natural gas enhancement tax and potential title transfer kept legislators busy for the better part of five hours.
Supervisor David Puddington (Eaton) originally presented the idea of the county assuming responsibility for a piece of property in his township for the purposes of designating it a county park at the March 28 planning committee meeting.
“This could be the first true county park in the southern part of the county,” Puddington said.
Attorney Chris Kendall, who represents the Heritage Park group, said the county’s assumption of ownership of the park would not create any new risks than already exist for its other county parks facilities.
County attorney John Campanie said he would be happy to go through the legal issues and answer questions about the proposed purchase.
“I have not done a comprehensive study, but I’ve looked into some things,” Campanie said.
Campanie said there would be obligatory liability issues and maintenance of the park facility. He said there also is a provision of county law that the facility must be “free from fees.”
“That may not mean all fees,” Campanie said. “You may be able to charge for parking, museum admission, but it’s something else that would have to be researched. I also have not spoken to our insurers.”
Puddington said he has spoken with representatives of Morrisville State College’s construction and hospitality curricula, and both departments have indicated their ability to help with projects in the 2008 calendar year.
“Heritage Farm could help,” Puddington said. “I don’t see a large paid complement of people running this thing. The county’s primary responsibility would be mowing.”
Supervisor Rocco J. DiVeronica, board of supervisors chairman, said he was open to the idea of the county accepting the gift, but he wants all legal liabilities fully researched.
“I think in general it’s a good concept, and we can figure out a way to make it work,” said Supervisor Elizabeth Moran (Cazenovia).
The property, purchased by the Parks of New York Foundation for $60,000, is located on Route 46 across from Heritage Farms. The purchase price would be $1. An application for a $25,000 grant for improvements to the parcel is pending.
Committee supports fuel production enhancement tax
Lebanon Supervisor James Goldstein asked the committee to move forward a resolution allowing his town to pursue a fuel enhancement tax on natural gas production.
Natural gas companies have been taxed only by way of real property taxes on the well heads located within the town.
Lebanon is asking that the county support its efforts in moving state legislators toward supporting the imposition of a tax on the gas produced.
According to documents obtained by Eagle Newspapers, the retail value of the fuel produced from about 20 wells drilled in 2005 exceeded $1 million. The Norwegian-based Nornew energy group paid taxes of only about $9,000, most of which went to the Hamilton Central School District.
The state offers tax breaks to the energy industry in an effort to help alleviate the area’s energy strains. The gas produced in Lebanon is transported to Canada and some southern states.
Supervisor John M. Becker (Sullivan) moved to accept Goldstein’s proposed resolution. Moran seconded the motion, which then was unanimously passed to be put before the full board at its May 8 meeting.
Rural preservation plea
Bob Lambert of Morrisville presented the case for the county to develop a rural preservation plan that will protect agricultural areas from residential development.
Lambert said divergent planning and zoning requirements in various municipalities sometimes work against each other in protecting wide-open spaces for the future.
“I am asking you to get involved more with the towns in protecting these lands,” Lambert said. “You don’t make any money on development out in rural areas.”
Lambert suggested development be limited to areas with some concentration of population already, such as hamlets, where some municipal services may already exist and energy districts could be established if they aren’t already.
“Many [hamlets] have dried up, but many have water, potential for wind power, and we can build up around those centers and not hopscotch out into rural areas,” Lambert said.
Economic development initiatives
Madison County Industrial Development Agency Board of Directors Chairman Richard Bargabos attended the planning committee meeting to talk about the possible relocation of the county planning department’s economic development zone coordinator.
Planning committee Chairman James Rafte Sr. said the move would streamline services for businesses looking at Madison County if that position were to be located with other IDA-related professionals in the agency’s proposed new location.
“This would make things easier to serve business,” Rafte said. “It would be less expensive and save tax dollars. We have this idea about combining the economic development zone coordinator with other IDA functions and putting them all under one roof.”
Bargabos said the move would further the “one-stop shop” county supervisors and the IDA board have been talking about for some time.
“I think the idea of the county contracting with the IDA came about after three members of the planning committee were put on the board,” Bargabos said. “The idea came up in January, is my recollection, to combine economic development and the revolving loan fund.”
DiVeronica appointed three members of the planning committee, Rafte, Moran and Becker, to the IDA board during the board of supervisors’ annual session late last year as part of a shake-up at the agency.
“There are a lot of legal issues involved, and we’ve got ideas to move the agency and the county forward in our mission for bringing jobs to this area and to make a good community even better,” Rafte said. “We wanted to bring those ideas back to the planning committee.”
DiVeronica said there were county contractual issues with the state and chastised members of the IDA board for not involving he and administrative assistant Russell Lura more in the process.
“You people been talking about things, and regardless of what happens to the IDA, the county is still responsible for any shortfall as a result of the IDA,” DiVeronica said. “We’ve got to make sure we do things right. This is the windmills all over again: We were left out of the loop again.”
Bargabos said he invited Michael Beckett, head of the Empire Zone Administrative Board, to attend the meeting so everyone could discuss potential ideas for moving the one-stop shop initiative forward.
“We’re going through the committee process,” Bargabos said.
“This is the problem with the planning committee members making up the board of the IDA,” DiVeronica said.
Rafte said when DiVeronica appointed board of supervisors Vice Chairman Walt Jaquay (supervisor, town of Hamilton) to the IDA board, other members were under the impression Jaquay would be the liaison to DiVeronica and Lura.
Supervisor Russell Cary (Fenner), who was at the meeting to present information on attracting renewable energy support businesses to the county, said he couldn’t understand why some supervisors were becoming upset.
“Coming to the committee is the right way to go,” Cary said to DiVeronica. “They’re letting us know. I get the impression you’re yelling at Jim [Rafte] for bringing this to the board.”
Supervisor Michel DeBottis (Oneida Wards 1, 2 and 3) said the reasoning behind putting more supervisors on the IDA board of directors was to improve communications between the two entities.
“I was stunned to read in the paper you were buying a building,” DeBottis said. “You relied heavily on the assumption you’d be relocating county employees over there [to support the venture]. [The new board] was supposed to improve dialogue with the supervisors, and I think the old board was much better at that.”
“I have a responsibility to the IDA,” Rafte said. “You are the chair of [public utility service ad hoc committee]. I am the vice chair [of the same committee], and there are many initiatives I didn’t know about, such as a certain $990,000 grant. These are IDA dollars, not tax dollars.”
“Your group has a month’s experience,” DeBottis said. “I think it’s good having the IDA express its ideas to the committee, but there are ideas that would centralize [IDA functions] here on campus.”
“With taxpayer dollars,” Becker said. “The board [of supervisors] is buying a building with taxpayer dollars. I didn’t know the IDA had to run its decision through the county.”
“We have to represent the best interests of [the IDA] and its mission,” Moran said. “Naturally, it is our intention to keep the county informed, but our responsibility is to the best interests of that agency.
David Bottar of the Central New York Regional Planning & Development Board will present to the committee of the whole May 8.
“Our dream is to make Madison County a better place,” Rafte said.
“Just share your thoughts with us before you buy a $400,000 building,” DeBottis said.
DeBottis said the IDA board should have held pre-meeting “discussions” via e-mail to lay out what the agency wanted to do before coming to the committee with its ideas.
“I don’t feel prepared,” DeBottis said.
Bargabos, who earlier this year became a proponent for public discussion of county business during windmill payments in lieu of taxes negotiations, said transparency was the point of bringing the matter to the committee.
“This is to benefit residents and business of this county,” Bargabos said. “We’re trying to have a discussion to make sure we don’t trip.”