In the News  Archive

Interests competing for ear of governor

March 7, 2015
Daily Gazette

By: Stephen Williams

It’s the time of year in Albany for making “the ask.”

It’s the rare community that doesn’t have a major need, and nonprofits may need the state’s financial help even more — and this point in the state budget development is when they speak up.

A couple of the requests have struck me as interesting and maybe even worthwhile, though this far into the game a lot of the bad ones have been weeded out.

I’m told there’s a pretty good chance that a request from the state Association of Agricultural Fairs for a $1 million capital fund will get into the Assembly budget bill to be voted on sometime next week. That puts it into the mix when the three-men-in-a-room phase of negotiations starts.

Who doesn’t want to think about a nice summer fairground filled with cows and cotton candy right about now? There are more or less 50 county fairs across the state, since every county outside New York City has one, or shares one with a neighbor.

Each is a big draw for a week every year, and most were around many decades before the arrival of electricity, let alone Tilt-a-Whirls, bumper cars and night lights.

“We all need infrastructure improvements,” said Jeff Townsend, manager of the Saratoga County Fair in Ballston Spa. “The infrastructure is more than 100 years old. You have old water lines, old electric lines, paving that needs to be done.”

The state association believes the neediest fairs should get money first, Townsend said. He acknowledges others have more needs than Saratoga does, though the county fairground has its share of problems.

The Fonda Fair, which serves Montgomery and Fulton counties, has told Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara’s office it would like to expand the on-site arena, increasing its capacity from 1,000 to 3,000 spectators. That would let it attract more special events, the argument goes.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed upgrades for the State Fairground in Syracuse, and may well get behind a little bit of sharing.

Meanwhile, the Adirondack Council is among those supporting the need to upgrade water and sewer systems across the state, using part of the state’s $5 billion financial settlement windfall.

Every community established before the bombing of Pearl Harbor has infrastructure issues — witness the hundreds of water main breaks across upstate New York this winter — but in the Adirondacks, those problems are compounded by tiny populations to pay for what’s needed.

The Indian Lake hamlet, for example, needs $1.5 million in drinking water well upgrades, even though it’s little more than a crossroads. Also in Hamilton County, Speculator, which is the last pit stop before some of the Adirondacks’ wildest country, could use $2.1 million to expand sewers.

In northern Fulton County, the Sacandaga Park waste treatment plant near Northville needs $6 million in upgrades, and who doesn’t want to see Great Sacandaga Lake stay clean?

And those projects just scratch the surface of a long list of needs across the Adirondack Park, since those are the ones already pursuing state funding applications.

The Capital District Transportation Authority and other mass transit agencies are making the case that Cuomo’s proposal to freeze state operating aid at current levels feels like a cut. Their ridership is growing, but not their assistance.

There was a 1.3 percent increase in state aid last year, after several years when funding didn’t grow at all.

Flat state funding has forced upstate transit systems, including CDTA, to divert federal funds intended for capital improvements to day-to-day operating costs — one of the definitions of how not to run a budget.

The New York Public Transit Association is asking for $25 million more for upstate systems — and some guarantee that aid will continue to grow in the future.

It’s too soon to say how any of the requests will fare as the April 1 budget deadline looms. The one certain thing is that without Silent Shelly Silver in the room, the personal dynamic as the three men enter the room will be much different.


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