Change in rules may hurt Schoharie County towns

A change in a state grant program is causing officials in Schoharie County to fear the loss of local

A change in a state grant program is causing officials in Schoharie County to fear the loss of local control over projects that require planning work.

The county Board of Supervisors passed a resolution last week asking the state Department of State to reverse a new rule that prevents recovery of the cost of consultant work for localities inside the New York City watershed if the consultant is a county planning agency.

The state’s Watershed Protection and Partnership Council, part of the New York Department of State, provides grant money for municipalities within the New York City watershed.

These include municipalities where the city’s reservoirs are situated, such as Schoharie and Delaware counties.

The agency provides funding for projects in the watershed through Water Quality Planning and Implementation Grants.

In grant application and reference materials for the 2007-08 year, the program was changed so that work by county planning departments could no longer be considered an eligible cost.

Schoharie County Planning and Development Department Director Alicia Terry said the department contracts with towns inside and outside of the city’s watershed, providing state-mandated planner training, drafting stream management plans, writing grant applications and other tasks.

In the absence of the county planning department’s work, Terry said, towns inside the watershed would be forced to hire engineering firms and consultants, which could cost more.

At the same time, the towns would lose out on the expertise of a department that’s worked in the area for years, Terry said.

“By being able to contract with the county department, there’s a certain amount of longevity and accountability that comes with it,” said Terry, while adding she didn’t have any problem with consultants.

“Typically when [consultants are] done with a project they move onto the next thing. We tend to be more aware of all of the issues that are going on as well as having a certain amount of longevity and are able to maintain contact with the community,” Terry said.

Terry said the county planning department charges at cost for its work and doesn’t seek to make a profit.

The Watershed Protection and Partnership Council made these changes in an effort to avoid paying for work that’s already funded, said Bill Harding, the council’s executive director.

Many towns in rural counties within the watershed already pay for county planning department services on an annual basis, Harding said.

“It was difficult for the Department of State to discern whether a grant-funded project was a single initiative or was already part of some other funded project on the county level,” Harding said.

Harding said the department encourages the relationship between towns and county planning agencies.

“It was important for us the public understood exactly where the money was going,” Harding said.

The council will review Schoharie County’s request, Harding said.

“To best help them we certainly would consider that and we certainly will work hard as a result of receiving [the resolution] to make any changes to further assist the county of Schoharie and its resident municipalities,” Harding said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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