Schenectady County

Metroplex measure sent to state

Schenectady County’s prime economic development engine won local approval Tuesday to seek a $25-mill

Schenectady County’s prime economic development engine won local approval Tuesday to seek a $25-million turbocharge from the state to continue its mission of expanding the tax base and creating jobs.

The county Legislature approved home rule legislation Tuesday night to ask the state Legislature to expand the Metroplex Development Authority’s bond cap by 50 percent, to $75 million from $50 million, and to extend its life by five years. It is currently scheduled to cease operations in 2028.

Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen said the $25 million increase is exactly what Metroplex can repay over time, based on its current debt, its projected sales tax revenues and the performance of its loan portfolio. The five-year extension would allow it to issue long-term bonds of 20 and 30 years, the usual terms of repayment.

Gillen said Metroplex should be able to leverage $100 million in investment through the extra $25 million in bonding. Metroplex has a current bond rating of A, about average.

Metroplex receives about $7 million annually through a portion of the county sales tax. Since its creation in 1999, it has tapped $42 million of its $50 million bonding authority. In the process, it has helped generate $300 million in investment and created 3,000 jobs, according to Metroplex officials.

Gillen said Metroplex has support in both houses of the state Legislature for the measure.

The vote in the Democrat-dominated county Legislature was 10-2. Republicans Joseph Suhrada, R-Rotterdam, and Angelo Santabarbara, R-Rotterdam, voted against it.

Minority Leader Bob Farley, R-Glenville, Judy Dagostino, D-Rotterdam, and Philip Fields, D-Schenectady were absent. Jim Buhrmaster, R-Glenville, voted with majority Democrats.

Suhrada, a frequent Metroplex critic, urged legislators to delay their vote until the state Comptroller’s Office completes an audit of Metroplex, which was announced last week. He also said people are concerned Metroplex will never go away, as is the case with the state Thruway Authority, and that it will establish a large debt for the community to repay. His amendment to increase the bond cap by only $10 million failed along party lines.

During the public comment session, 24 people spoke in favor of extending Metroplex’s bonding cap and two spoke against it. Proponents included major developers and business owners who have benefited from Metroplex’s efforts, including The Galesi Group, Fortitech and the Hampton Inn.

Galesi executive David Buicko, whose company owns several business parks in the county as well as several downtown Schenectady buildings, said Metroplex is an essential economic development tool and the envy of other communities in the region.

“It levels the playing field,” Buicko said, meaning Metroplex provides assistance to developers to rehabilitate downtown buildings they would find too costly to fix on their own.

“We have a responsibility to the community” to keep Metroplex on track with its mission, Buicko said.

Brad Littlefield of Delanson, who persistently petitioned the comptroller’s office to audit Metroplex, opposed the legislation. “We should recoup bad investment prior to increasing the bond cap more,” he said.

He asked the Legislature to delay its vote until after the comptroller completed its audit.

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