No to request for Route 7 study $


By David Avitabile

A request to pay for engineering costs for the Route 7 water and sewer project met with little acceptance from county supervisors last Tuesday.
In a special meeting last Tuesday evening, Alicia Terry, the head of the county’s planning department, asked the board to pay $350,000 for engineering, design and legal costs while officials continue to cement the funding for the project.
The project is seen as crucial to the Howe Caverns dinosaur park and future commercial development on Route 7.
Supervisors debated the request but took no action. They are expected to make a decision at their May 20 meeting.
Noting that the project did not get a $2.575 million federal grant last month for the $7.8 million project, most supervisors voiced hesitation at spending $350,000 at this point. The money would be part of the $2 million that they have already committed to the project.
County planning officials are preparing to submit another grant application by the June 10 deadline. They are confident they can address any weaknesses that resulted in the application’s failure in the first two rounds of the grants.
Board Chairman Harold Vroman did stand up for funding the project.
He said it is great that the county is debt-free but in recent years the county has had to raise taxes. In addition, for the first time in many years, the county’s total assessment went down.
“We have to look at other things to find revenue sources,” he said.
The Route 7 project and Howe Caverns expansion will increase sales tax revenue and provide many more jobs in the county, Mr. Vroman said.
“We have to look to the future to make this a place people want to build and live,” he said.
The uncertainty of getting the federal grant from the Economic Development Administration bothered several supervisors.
“I keep hearing, ‘they will and they might, and maybe’ and that’s what worries me,” said Dan Singletary of Jefferson.
“I have no handle on where the money is, where it’s going to go.”
The Caverns project may produce 350 jobs and “we’re being blinded by the jobs,” he said.
“Right now, the only one with money on the table is the county.”
Howe Caverns has committed $2 million to the project (which will be paid back to the new water district over 20 years after the district pays the money first) and the Town of Cobleskill has committed $226,000 but several supervisors said the village and town of Cobleskill should put up some of the money for the engineering and legal costs.
“The town and village need to come up with some portion,” said Martin Shrederis of Schoharie.
Tony VanGlad of Gilboa suggested $100,000 coming from Howe Caverns, $100,000 coming from the town and the rest coming from the county to pay for the engineering and legal costs.
Bob Mann of Blenheim said he would like to see Howe Caverns “come to the plate with a bit more.”
The project, he said, is starting to remind him of when the county renovated the courthouse and the project ended up costing much more and took longer than originally thought “because things weren’t ironed out ahead of time. Paperwork has to be done…
“To rush into it now doesn’t seem like good government.”
Cobleskill’s Tom Murray said the county has to move forward on the project now.
The county already lost Lowe’s and FedEx because there was no water and sewer available on Route 7.
“That corridor will expand,” he said.
He reminded supervisors that the town of Cobleskill provides most of the sales tax in the county.
Earl VanWormer of Esperance said he was tired of hearing that Cobleskill provides most of the sales tax in the county, adding, “Without the other towns, you have no sales tax.”
Funding has to be secured, he said.
“You have to have your ducks in a row,” Mr. VanWormer said.
The grant application’s standing has improved each time, Ms. Terry said.
The first application to the EDA was deemed non-competitive and had 21 points that had to be addressed.
The latest one that was turned down was deemed competitive and had three deficiencies that can be addressed, Ms. Terry said.
The three points were: there were not enough high-paying and high-skilled jobs, some of the cash was not immediately available and the EDA wanted to see a stronger tie to federal job creation.
The project is immensely important to the county, Ms. Terry, and the discussion will continue.
“It’s a game-changer for the county,” she said.
“We are doggedly determined to bring this to a conclusion because it’s so important to the county.”