County office plan met with skepticism

Lawmakers had more reasons not to go forward with leasing a new county office building Thursday than

Lawmakers had more reasons not to go forward with leasing a new county office building Thursday than reasons to support the idea, but the fate of the proposal remained up in the air at the end of their meeting.

County supervisors discussed a proposal to spend an estimated $1.1 million annually on a 90,000-square-foot building that would be built by a subsidiary of BBL Construction.

The annual cost, according to the resolution, doesn’t include maintenance expenses, utilities or property taxes the county would have to pay, and supervisors Thursday suggested more research is needed before a decision can be made.

Amsterdam town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza, the proposal’s primary proponent, said cramped quarters, limited parking and the chance of another flood are strong enough reasons to go forward. The current county annex building and the public works building are in the flood plain of the Mohawk River.

But other supervisors painted a murky picture of the county’s economic future, and said now is not the time to embark on major spending.

Supervisors have been discussing the possibility of increasing the mortgage recording tax and the notion of a sales tax increase is back up for discussion as well, ideas Root Town Supervisor John Thayer said are untimely with an ongoing mortgage crisis, fluctuating fuel prices and county budget difficulties on the horizon.

“What I’m reading into this is we’re going to try to pay the lease with increased fees and taxes. I really am not for increasing taxes in the county … we are indeed headed for hard times,” Thayer said.

Several supervisors said they are expecting a major reduction in interest earnings. Some said interest earnings could be half of those earned last year. At the same time, the county is already seeing a decrease in sales tax revenues, officials said.

Canajoharie Supervisor Robert McMahon said he is concerned about people losing their homes, and said he can not justify building a county office complex on land that is meant to attract private business development and create new jobs. He said the idea to move offices to the Glen Canal View Business Park is simply shifting jobs from one place to another.

“I will not support it at this present time,” McMahon said.

Mohawk Town Supervisor Ed Paton said he contacted two officials in Fulton County, which leased a new social services building.

“They told me the biggest mistake they made was leasing it,” Paton said.

Estimates for how much the property taxes would cost, Paton said, are unrealistic unless they are doubled to account for the future.

“I’m very concerned about the problems in the country today. … This is not the time to do it,” Paton said.

Glen Town Supervisor John Thomas took issue with the suggestion from DiMezza that there would be no impact on the village of Fonda if county workers were to be moved out of the village.

Thomas said he spoke with business managers at Stewart’s, Subway and other village businesses about what happens to business activity on weekdays when a holiday or other day occurs in which county workers aren’t around.

“It’s a ghost town,” Thomas said. “If the most-crowded department we have is Social Services, let’s build them a building.”

Amsterdam 4th Ward Supervisor David Dybas said he’s not convinced the county annex building on Park Street in Fonda is antiquated or outdated, and he said more studies should be done to determine what other options exist, such as renovating.

“I would like to explore renovating, possibly putting up another building. What are the other options. This was step one. Unfortunately, I think there’s 15 other steps to go through,” Dybas said.

Charleston Supervisor Shayne Walters said he was an early supporter of constructing a building in the Glen business park, but he also suggested other options could be reviewed.

The county still has property adjacent to the historic County Courthouse in Fonda, at the site of the former jail that was razed last year, he said. The site of a mobile home park next to the annex building is for sale, he noted.

Walters said from what he could recall, the only reason leasing a building was being considered is because the county’s Board of Supervisors could approve such a move with a simple majority. Bonding for construction requires a two-thirds majority vote.

Walters said he would only be comfortable pursuing the idea if at least 14 of 15 supervisors were behind it, and he said going forward with the current proposal is akin to putting “the burden of a building we don’t own on taxpayers that aren’t born yet.”

Aside from DiMezza, Amsterdam 2nd Ward Supervisor Barbara Johnson appeared to be the only supporter of the current proposal, which she envisioned as a way to give county workers and the public a nice, new building “they could call their own.”

But other supervisors pointed out that under that proposal, the developer, not the county, would own the facility.

A resolution to go forward with leasing a building built by “Pinstripes LLC,” a partner with BBL Construction, is still on the agenda for the county board’s meeting Tuesday.

But Amsterdam 3rd Ward Supervisor Ronald Barone said he expects to move to table the resolution when it comes up next week.

Categories: Schenectady County

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