County likes new CEDC payback proposal

HUDSON—The Economic Development Committee of the county Board of Supervisors took the first steps this week toward restoring public funding for the Columbia Economic Development Corporation.

The committee and the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC), an independent authority created by county, will draft an agreement that the committee will recommend to the full Board of Supervisors. Committee chairman John Reilly (R-Gallatin) confirmed in an email Tuesday, September 22, that “within that agreement will be the suspended funding for 2015, and 2016 funding.”

Until earlier this year the county had been making quarterly payments to the CEDC for an annual total of $437,000. But those payments were suspended after the state Authorities Budget Office investigated the CEDC and issued a report in late April describing potential conflicts of interest on the CEDC board.

During heated summer exchanges, the county Board of Supervisors called for a review CEDC business loans. In the meantime, CEDC leadership ousted Kenneth J. Flood, its part-time executive director, who remains on the county payroll as planning commissioner. David Crawford, the former CEDC board president, has resigned.

The CEDC subsequently hired an interim director, F. Michael Tucker, of Tucker Strategies in Albany. Mr. Tucker did the loan review himself and reported on it at last month’s committee meeting. He then asked the committee to restore the CEDC’s county funding, and he offered the county two sums of money.

In one, the CEDC and the county’s Industrial Development Agency would each pay $25,000, the county’s $50,000 share of the $2-million bill from McKinsey & Co. for consulting on the regional Upstate Revitalization Initiative. Those sums have been paid, Mr. Tucker reported Monday.

The other sum, Mr. Tucker said he would ask the CEDC to reimburse the county $116,000 for land in Claverack and Ghent transferred to Ginsberg’s Institutional Foods for $1, where the company plans to expand. That remains to be done.

Mr. Tucker and Tony Jones, the new president of the CEDC board, attended Monday’s EDC meeting to report further progress. The CEDC continues to make small-business loans and its annual micro-business seminars have begun.

Mr. Tucker has been developing the agency’s 2016 budget. About 75% to 80% of the budget goes to salary, benefits and overhead, he said; the rest is for programs, such as the micro-business seminars. “I took this year’s budget and increased it 2% across the board and then added $95,000 for a full-time executive director with 2% more for benefits,” he said. The CEDC is currently searching for a permanent executive director.

That left the CEDC “$75,000 in the red,” he said. The loan fund, a separate account, stands at about $1.2 million.

His agency could have the IDA pay for the CEDC staff time that goes to the IDA, Mr. Tucker said, which would amount to $36,000 to $48,000 per year.

“We have two clients,” noted Mr. Tucker, “the county and the membership. We need also to focus on job retention and the companies that are already here. The county needs an economic development plan,” he added, “and the CEDC needs a plan to provide that.”

Mr. Tucker’s contract goes through November. But without having a contract with the county and the funding that would follow, the chances of CEDC hiring a permanent executive director—part-time or full-time—by the end of the year are remote at best.

“What I’m looking at is how might I provide additional services,” said Mr. Tucker, “rather than rush out and fill the [executive director] job. We could step back and use this transition period to look at the position and staffing.”

“If we focus both the CEDC and the county on a planning effort, that would take us till June 30,” said committee member Art Bassin (D-Ancram). “Are you available until then?”

“I have to have that conversation with my board,” said Mr. Tucker, adding that his current 20 hours a week “has been tight.”

The consensus of the committee was that members are impressed with what Mr. Tucker has done so far and would encourage the CEDC board to keep him on.

Committee members also believe that if the CEDC pays back the $116,000 to Columbia County, the money should go to support tourism or economic development efforts. “A dedication of the payment to tourism or economic development will be recommended to the full board as part of the draft agreement,” Mr. Reilly said in his email.

“You’ve re-established public trust, at least in my mind,” Mr. Bassin told Mr. Tucker and Mr. Jones at the end of the meeting. “I’m confident you can do this.”

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