October 25, 2021

Legislators debate membership with development groups

Cortland County Seal

Cortland County legislators must figure out how to pay for membership dues to two economic development agencies after forgetting to place the costs back in the county’s 2020 budget after taking them out of a department budget.

“I think we will find a way for it to work out,” said Legislator Beau Harbin (D-Cortland). “In Budget and Finance everyone expressed moving forward, we just need to find the funds.”

The $31,000 the county paid each year to Southern Tier 8 and Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board has helped the development of a $50 million yogurt plant, two military medical training programs that brought $1.6 million in health benefits to the community, and low-cost street lighting programs across the county. And more.

Legislators are expected to continue debating in February how and whether the county should pay its memberships dues and remain a part of the Southern Tier 8 and Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board, which have provided more than $38 for $1 spent in return on investment.

“I can’t imagine why the county would consider severing ties with either organization, they both provide so much in terms of grant and technical assistance as well as educational programming,” said Homer Mayor Darren “Hal” McCabe. “We are truly blessed to be in a location that is allowed to belong to both.”

The dues had fallen under the county Planning Department’s budget, but were taken out as line items during the 2020 budget process, so it wouldn’t skew the size of the department’s budget and so the Legislature would have it on its radar to pay, just as it does with other memberships, Harbin said.

However, the cost was not placed anywhere else in the 2020 budget and discussion on the memberships ceased until the new Legislature was seated. Now, discussions center on how the county will pay the dues.

“Both boards are extremely valuable to both the county and the village, for different reasons,” Mc- Cabe said.

McCabe said the Southern Tier 8 — which includes Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Otsego, Schoharie, Tioga and Tompkins counties — is helping the village of Homer with fiber network rollout and played a huge role in bringing the Innovative Readiness Training to the county in both 2016 and 2019. The medical training event provided more than $900,000 in services in 2016 and more than $700,000 in 2019.

Without the help of Southern Tier 8 it would be a lot harder to bring things like IRT to Cortland County, said Susan Williams, the assistant director at Seven Valleys Health Coalition.

“Southern Tier 8 was the one working really closely with the county as far as all the details that needed to be handled logistically,” Williams said, noting the agency was the liaison between the county and the military.

Harbin, who is a county representative for the Southern Tier 8 board, said being involved with the Southern Tier 8 also gives the county and its municipalities access to the Appalachian Regional Commission — which gave $15,000 to help with the cost of doing IRT.

Harbin is also participating in leadership fellowship through the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Without the agency, the county would be left to apply to get the IRT program on its own and would be competing against the counties that went through Southern Tier 8.

“It seems to me like it was absolutely in our benefit to be in a partnership for that,” Williams said.

The county is also looking at whether to continue its relationship with the Central New York Regional Planning Board. Legislators were shocked to see a request from the group to have the county pay $29,334 in dues this year, up 80% from the $16,254 it had paid. However, County Planning Director Dan Dineen said an agreement had been worked out so the county’s dues would increase $2,616 every year for five years until it reached the $29,334 amount.

“We have not increased our membership dues to Cortland County or any of our member counties in at least 20 years,” said David Bottar, the executive director of the board. “The small budget increase we’re requesting is simply to reflect an increase in our operating costs over the last 20 years.”

Bottar said the organization looked to cut costs, including going from a 10 full-time person staff to eight, but eventually had to raise the dues.

The board has helped the county with a number of projects. It helped develop the Finger Lakes East Business Park in Cortlandville using over $2.9 million in federal and state funding. Byrne Dairy bought the park in 2014 for a $50 million yogurt-processing facility that created 100 jobs. The tax agreement with the company means the county gets $30,029 and the other taxing districts split $74,000 each year.

The board also helped the city of Cortland, village of Homer and town of Truxton with LED lighting, each with varying cost savings to the communities.

“Basically, all that goes away if we choose not to continue our membership,” Harbin said. “That would be a significant blow to the county.”