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Economic Development A Good Bet?
This is the first in a three-part series that explores taxpayers’ investment in economic development in Saratoga County.
SARATOGA COUNTY – When political strategist James Carville coined the phrase, “the economy, stupid” back in the early 90’s in answer to a question exploring top voter concerns, he could not have known it would become a standard part of the American vernacular.
Debates may rage throughout this Presidential election year on foreign policy, health care, immigration, and a variety of other important issues, but it can be arguably said that none resonate more with the average voter than how that voter will be hit in the pocketbook. That is just as true in Saratoga County as it is across the nation. People want jobs, good-paying salaries, and affordable goods and services. The glimmer of hope seen in the slow rate of the national upturn of job creation and drop in unemployment may have restored some consumer confidence, (as seen in the record sales experienced by the automobile industry in December) but a December Gallup poll showed 57 percent of Americans think the economy is “getting worse.”
Placing the Bet
The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors (the Board) understand, in no uncertain terms, that it is “the economy, stupid,” and have been making preparations to assure the county economy grows in a sustainable way in 2016 and into the future. In late spring of 2014, the Board made a decision to sever its three-decade relationship with the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) and begin a new economic development agency from scratch.
For county taxpayers, this resulted in a substantial increase in allocation of their tax dollars for economic development. SEDC was paid $200,000 in 2014, but in 2015 the Board allocated $750,000 to the newly created Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership (the Partnership). That’s more than triple the prior year allocation. The Partnership did not utilize all those funds and returned the unused portion back to the County, as statute required.
State legislation that was passed last year at the request of the County authorized one-half of one percent of the County’s hotel occupancy tax to go to the Partnership in perpetuity, beginning this year. That, combined with other County revenue, will continue the $750,000 a year for the Partnership.
According to Saratoga Springs Supervisor Peter Martin, there were no tax or fee increases or existing program cuts to cover the additional half-million-dollar expense. The Board used a combination of unallocated surplus funds and increased sales tax revenues to cover the cost in 2015. The local economy was better in 2015, and consumers made more purchases, so the money was there. The Board decided it would be a good bet to reinvest that money into the economy, and additionally decided that it would increase their odds on a return by directing the money to a new economic development agency rather than give it to the existing one.
Arthur “Mo” Wright, who is currently serving his first year as chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors after nine years of representing Hadley as Town Supervisor, reiterated what other supervisors have been saying, that they didn’t feel they were seeing much in the way of results from SEDC.
“Once GlobalFoundries came in, we haven’t seen much else,” said Wright. “Marty [Vanag]’s presentation to the Saratoga Springs City Council [Tuesday, January 5] was the same as what he gave to the Supervisors, and the number one goal of the county is to work with him and support the Partnership. You can’t lose sight of the fact that there’s more to this county than just GlobalFoundries. Obviously they are a new entity and it takes a while to get staffed and up to speed, but it sounds like he’s hitting the ground running.”
Dennis Brobston, Saratoga Economic Development Corporation president, was unavailable for comment, but SEDC has recently been working to bring Dollar General to the county with a $92 million dollar warehouse project that would bring over 500 new jobs to the area. On Monday, January 11, the Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) approved a package of tax incentives valued at more than $11 million to sweeten the deal against the competition. Dollar General is also weighing locations in some New England states. If that deal and others like it come through, taxpayers might wonder whether that additional half a million dollars for the Partnership might have been better spent.
The Ace in the Hole?
Marty Vanags was hired as president of the new Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership back in May of last year. He moved here from Indiana, bringing the heavy-hitting resume of an economic development veteran. According to Saratoga Springs Supervisor Matthew Veitch, his salary is in the neighborhood of $125,000 a year.
“He’s worth every penny,” said Veitch. “You have to understand, we didn’t create SEDC. They are an independent entity. It’s not like we can dissolve it if we feel it’s not meeting its responsibilities. The Partnership was created by statute, and even though it is formed as a nonprofit corporation and has its own board, there’s a degree of transparency there that we just weren’t getting from SEDC. This is taxpayer money, and we have to know where it is going and how it is being used. The straw that broke the camel’s back with SEDC followed a request of the Supervisors to sit on the board – given the financial contribution. When SEDC refused and frankly told us that there was some legal problem that meant they couldn’t do it, the board decided we’d go our own way to meet our needs.”
Rodney Sutton, newly elected chair of the Saratoga County IDA, said Vanags has already brought some business to the county, but is pragmatic about the fact that there are now two agencies with the same goal in the area.
“All due respect to partnership,” said Sutton, “they are the new kid on the block and we are more than willing to cooperate with the Partnership so we can work together to continue the growth of the county. They have to go out and generate activities that they think SEDC has not. That’s the capitalistic enterprise that we live in. If they can bring something to the table, that’s great. I do think over the years SEDC has done its job admirably, but things change. Our economic message could change, economic winds could be changing as we speak.”
Vanags recently announced a four-point strategy for economic development in the County. Veitch said, “In the time we’ve had Marty around, for him to come out with a strategic plan and move forward with it is huge for me. I don’t know that we’ve done anything like that in the past. Now the public knows this is our plan and it’s out there, open to people for them to add suggestions, concerns and criticisms. Now, that’s accountability. The outlook for 2016 and beyond, I think is good.”
Sutton agrees. “My firm belief is that good strong businesses will still come to Saratoga County and find it an attractive place to stay,” said Sutton. “We’ve got good educational institutions, good housing, good transportation, a stable tax base – there are a variety of reasons for companies to move here. Through the recession, we still held our own through that whole period of time. Now we’re seeing an uptick in manufacturing and other companies that might move into the area.”
In our next edition, we’ll take a closer look at the strategy and its potential impact to the local economy. The Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership is located at 2911 Route 9 in Malta. They can be reached at 518-871-1887 or visit SaratogaPartnership.org.
8 Projects to receive total of $100,000
By Arthur Gonick
BALLSTON SPA – At the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, October 20, the board unanimously approved the funding of eight trail projects throughout the county, granting $12,500 to each, for a total of $100,000. Included in this are funds for construction of the Crescent Avenue Connector - a 1-mile segment of the Greenbelt Trail in the City of Saratoga Springs; and funding for a feasibility study for the Bullard Lane Community Trail in the Town of Wilton to create a public trail on a 38 acre wooded town-owned parcel that would connect public lands and Gavin Park.
The Supervisors passed a total of 19 resolutions unanimously, including:
- Expressing support for state legislation to designate Route 9 in the county as “United States Submarine Veterans Memorial Highway”
- Expressing support for the Capital Region’s 20.20 Revitalization Plan,
- Proclaiming October as ‘Manufacturing Month’ and ‘Cyber-Security Awareness Month’ in the county,
- Accepting ownership of four roads in the Town of Malta at the Luther Forest Technology Campus;
- Accepting a security grant of $72,500 from the New York State Division of Homeland Security
- Appointing David Wallingford and Ralph Pascucci as Commissioners of the Saratoga Lake Improvement District.
Matt Veitch Takes the Reins of County Bd. of Supervisors
BALLSTON SPA – On Tuesday, Jan. 20, Matthew Veitch took the gavel and ran his first monthly meeting as Chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. Elected from the City of Saratoga Springs, he is the first to be chair from the city since Phil Klein had that role in 1992.
This meeting represents a milestone in that Veitch now has overall responsibility for county operations, as he and his colleagues begin to administer the 2015 budget – which, in fact, Veitch had considerable input in creating as Vice Chairman and the head of the County’s Law and Finance Committee in 2014.
Before Tuesday’s meeting, we discussed a wide range of subjects relating to 2015 plans and priorities:
It’s a considerably different city and county since 1992…
“Yes, We didn’t have many of the major developments you see today.” Veitch noted, “We had no racino, the flat track ran for only four weeks. In Saratoga Springs, we might have had 5,000 less people, but the overall makeup is completely different now. Because of the developments in the county – GlobalFoundries chief among them, you have a situation where perhaps only 50 percent of the population is native now. Our challenge is to handle the larger size economy, but in some ways it is much easier because it is growing, in contrast to 1992 when there was a recession happening.”
How do you see the 2015 budget going into the year and what initiatives are you looking towards as chairman
“We got a lot done last year (in the budget process) to set us up in good shape,” Veitch noted, listing funding for open space and trails, economic development and public safety as some of the priorities for the coming year. He also spoke about working along with Supervisor Phil Barrett on the county’s Public Safety committee. “Our priorities there are to focus on two broad areas, and in fact the committee just formed two subcommittees to reflect that: one to focus on equipment needs such as body cams, and another for operations and procedure.” Veitch said. “This has always been a priority for me even though I represent an area that has it’s own police. First of all, your taxes pay for the sheriff regardless of where you live, and a safe county makes for a safe city.”
How is it starting to feel as the person who leads the team?
“Overall it’s great,” Veitch noted, citing inheriting a great staff such as Clerk of the Board of Supervisors Pamela Wright. “The biggest change is that I’m at the County offices every day now – with my new responsibilities there are always contracts and forms to sign, and learning operations. Another interesting development is that I am seeing my colleagues are looking to me for guidance on a variety of matters.”
There are many new aspects that go with his new position, and it appears that Matt Veitch is embracing them all.
For one, chairing the monthly Board of Supervisors meeting has an important ceremonial component. At Tuesday’s meeting, Veitch participated in issuing official proclamations and honors: To residents Adam Myers and Mike Campanella, as well as Deputy Sheriffs Jonathan Grady and Jeffrey O’Connor for their heroic life-saving efforts on behalf of a man in a burning vehicle that plunged into Murphy’s Pond in Clifton Park; and to William J. Davis upon his retirement as Chairman of the Saratoga County Sewer District.
Committee appointments also fall under the Chairman’s purview. At Tuesday’s meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved two appointments to the County Fire Advisory Board; as well as three to the Capital Resource Corporation – one of which was filled by Veitch himself, who volunteered to take the vacancy.
Each Chairman also puts their own stamp on the office by announcing their own initiatives. One that Veitch has already pledged is to visit each Saratoga County town’s meeting at one point during the year to keep them updated about county proceedings. This is an extension of Veitch’s regular attendance at twice-monthly Saratoga Springs City Council meetings.
New Role At Board Of Supervisors Brings Increased Impact On All County Residents’ Lives
BALLSTON SPA – Matthew E. Veitch is beginning his fourth two-year term as Saratoga County Supervisor, one of two supervisors representing the City of Saratoga Springs. Each year, the board elects new officers and for 2014, he was elected vice-chairman.
As such, he will assume the chair the board of supervisors’ important law and finance committee, which renders an advisory opinion on virtually every matter that involves any expenditure of county money.
He also will have primary responsibility for the preparation of the county’s 2015 budget and is chairman of the board of supervisors’ agenda meeting. By rule, given that he will not face re-election, he is also in a direct line to become 2015’s chairman of the board.
All told, this means he is in an increased position to have an impact on every Saratoga County resident’s lives. We sat down at a local coffee shop to discuss the workings of county government and to gain some insights as to some of the things he hopes to achieve in this increased capacity.
How does the process of being elected to the chair and vice-chair work? Is it a true election akin to running for office?
MV: Yes and no. There is an actual vote to ratify officers, but unlike a general public election there are different rules in which seniority controls. The chairman is the most senior member of the majority party (Republican), who has not previously served as chair. In this case, Malta Supervisor Paul Sausville was elected to that post. The vice-chairman is the second most senior supervisor who also has the most time served as a member of the seven-person law and finance committee. I was appointed to that committee three years ago.
What are some of the major areas that the Law and Finance committee has primary responsibility for?
MV: The county budget itself is passed at the end of the previous year. Law and Finance renders an advisory opinion on any budget amendment after that, and can modify an amount it recommends if it feels an adjustment is called for. This committee is responsible for all rules and regulations, oversight of the county sewer district and outside standing agencies. We also oversee donations to not-for-profit agencies as they occur, and as needed screen and interview candidates for personnel vacancies for department head level and above (non-civil service positions.)
In your new role, you have primary responsibility for the preparation of the 2015 budget. When does the process begin, and how does the timetable to passage play out?
MV: We begin in July, with a survey of all department heads for their requests, and work on this into October. We generally release the preliminary budget in late October, shortly before Election Day. While I intend to keep an eye on and be involved in each request, I also will rely on County Administrator Spencer Hellwig and Management Analyst Ryan Moore for their expertise. In November, law and finance holds a meeting to take any recommended adjustments to personnel by the county’s Personnel Director, and other special changes as needed. In early December, the Board of Supervisors holds a budget workshop and we adopt our budget at the Board’s last meeting of the year.
Looking ahead to the 2015 budget, what would you like to see accomplished?
MV: First of all, I have to give credit to my predecessors. We had some rough budget years in the past, but the measures that they have taken, including the sale of Maplewood Manor, the county landfill and the setting up for a new strategic economic plan, has put us in great shape going forward. Assuming the economy stays the way it is, we should have some extra revenue to develop in ways that will be beneficial and visible to all county residents.
The first thing I hope will happen is for us to refund our open space activities, which had to be defunded during lean times. I don’t expect to fund it to the previous high level it once was, but reestablish it. Second, I hope to develop a new county trail grant program, in which all towns could competitively submit projects for the county’s support.
I’d also like to see support for a county wide green initiative, in conjunction with our buildings and grounds committee. This takes many forms- from looking at ways to save on energy by removing some of the excess florescent lighting in county buildings, putting high-efficiency LED lighting in our parking lots. We should look at the feasibility of establishing a solar park somewhere on county land. It would be great if we could take the county buildings off the grid, perhaps return some surplus. It would be an investment and a long-term project, but I’ve never been against spending money if there’s a strong potential for a payback to us.
The biggest goal I would like to shoot for, given a good budget year for 2015, is to not increase taxes, which was necessary the past three years. I’m hopeful and optimistic.
How will you involve your colleagues, either from rural towns unlike Saratoga Springs, or from the other party?
MV: I’ve always been of the belief that a good idea doesn’t come from one side or another. Show me a good idea, and I’ll back it.
You just had your first agenda meeting. How did it go?
MV: We were out in six minutes. I got a lot of compliments about that!
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Susan Hayes-Masa was appointed County Coroner by the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The appointment will last through the end of the year, as the position has been vacant since the passing of County Coroner John DeMartino in May.