Fulton County

Report: Fulton County feuding is an obstacle to growth

An author of a regional business plan for Fulton and Montgomery counties said the biggest obstacle t

An author of a regional business plan for Fulton and Montgomery counties said the biggest obstacle to its success is perceived bickering among municipalities in Fulton County.

Dustin Swanger, president of Fulton-Montgomery Community College, gave a one-year update on the business plan Friday morning at a Business Industry Council breakfast, sponsored by the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry, at the Perthshire.

“Our intergovernmental relations are not a strength; they are our biggest challenge,” he said. “Some of our local municipalities would not have a company [locate in the county] rather than sell them sewer and water services.”

Swanger said the perceived bickering is hurting economic development efforts. “We have a bad reputation that we have got to overcome. I have had state officials tell me the two most difficult counties in the state to get things done are Fulton and Montgomery,” he said.

Mark Kilmer, chamber chairman, said he agreed with Swanger that there is bickering in the county. “It depends on which project is going on and which municipality has to provide the services,” he said.

He said that businesses outside of Fulton County follow the news of these issues and make decisions based on the information.

“If a business is specifically looking at this location to expand, they will read the newspaper and keep track of what is going on and take note of that,” Kilmer said. “I am not saying the bickering is unique to Fulton County, but municipalities are being forced to garner any type of revenues they can or else they have to put the cost of services on the backs of taxpayers,” he said.

Swanger would not identify the bickering municipalities, other than to call them “Fantasy Land” and “Candy Land” and say they are located in Fulton County. He said the area could learn about cooperation and collaboration from the “model agreement” between the city of Amsterdam and the town of Amsterdam for shared water and sewer services. He said this agreement made possible the extension of city water and sewer services into undeveloped areas of the town and the result is the explosive development of the Route 30 corridor in the town.

In the past, the cities of Gloversville and Johnstown have sparred over development projects in the town of Johnstown and elsewhere. The town has no sewer or water services, whereas both cities do. The cities must jointly allow hookups from one or the other beyond their municipal borders under their joint operating agreement for the co-owned Gloversville-Johnstown Wastewater Treatment Facility.

When either city refuses to allow hookups, a developer has to seek annexation into one of the cities or build a septic system and drill a well.

Gloversville Mayor Dayton King, who attended the BIC breakfast, said while he agreed overall with Swanger’s assessment, he said his city cannot afford to “give away services.” He said he wants to cooperate, “but it has to make sense to the citizens of Gloversville,” whom he represents.

To Gloversville, which has one of the highest property tax rates in the county and is at 97 percent of its constitutional tax limit, absorbing business sites in the town of Johnstown is a way to prevent bankruptcy. And that, he said, means pursuing a policy of annexation and discussing revenue-sharing components with the town.

He said the town of Johnstown’s tax rate is one-twentieth the city’s, which does not cover the cost of city services, and that the city receives no sales tax under the current distribution formula for businesses located in the town.

In another example, Swanger said efforts have stalled to develop a regional business park containing shovel-ready sites involving land in the city of Johnstown and the town of Mohawk in Montgomery County. Both counties lacks shovel-ready sites, which come with various pre-approvals, and/or infrastructure in place to attract businesses.

“We are struggling. It is an ideal spot. We can’t get the municipalities to figure it out,” Swanger said. “We have to get them to talk.”

The idea of creating a 200-acre regional business park has been discussed for years, but the two municipalities have not been able to come up with a revenue-sharing agreement they can both accept.

Economic development officials from both counties said if they had a regional park, they could jointly apply for state economic development funds for its development. This is one of the regional business plan’s six goals.

Another goal, which Swanger noted as a positive, is that FMCC has invested more than $1 million in programs and equipment to train people for advanced manufacturing jobs that are in demand, such as technicians to create computer wafers.

Other goals are to improve the region’s quality of life by developing diverse housing, such as loft apartments, for young professionals who do not want to own a home; and to extend water, sewer, power and broadband service throughout the region. This would require “some cooperation between the town of Johnstown and the city of Johnstown” and amending the joint operating agreement for the wastewater treatment plant. The amendment would remove the veto power of the two cities over hookups and base the approval instead on plant capacity.

“There has to bee some movement in Johnstown and Gloversville. Let’s work out an agreement when the pressure is off,” Swanger said. “We continue to have a reputation that is it is hard to get anything done.”

Swanger said in order for economic growth to continue, municipalities must think of the “big picture” and stop “protecting these boundary lines no one can see.” Otherwise, he said, the two counties will lose out on grants in a highly competitive application environment.

The business plan came out of “CEO roundtable” events involving business people, politicians and civic officials.

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