Saratoga County wants the towns of Malta and Stillwater to change their zoning laws to make it easier to attract new businesses to the troubled Luther Forest Technology Campus.
The towns are being asked to allow tax breaks for new businesses there and also to broaden the allowed uses beyond the current focus on computer chip manufacturing. “What we’re doing now isn’t working. ... We need to take a new approach,” county Economic Development Committee Chairman Jack Lawler, R-Waterford, said Wednesday.
Briefing the committee in Ballston Spa, he said the proposals come from discussions involving the two towns, campus management, GlobalFoundries and the county industrial development agency.
“By no means do we expect there won’t be substantial discussions in the towns,” Lawler said. “But to improve the competitive position of the park is very important.”
No company other than GlobalFoundries has set up shop in the tech park — and the inability to offer economic development tax incentives is thought to be one of the reasons for this.
IDA officials have indicated they’re willing to offer less-generous incentives than their usual policies to get the towns to agree.
“The IDA can be flexible,” said Wilton Supervisor Arthur Johnson, a member of the IDA board.
The IDA earlier this month proposed a policy under which it could offer less than its standard package, which includes 10 years without property taxes for manufacturing companies.
Current zoning in both towns prohibits tax breaks to lure business to the park. That is blamed for driving businesses elsewhere. The lack of activity has driven the Luther Forest Economic Development Corp., which owns the park, to insolvency. It owes Malta $800,000 in overdue road maintenance fees for the past two years.
As part of any incentives deal, the county would take ownership of those roads, which now belong to Malta.
“Our part will be for the county to assume ownership of the roads. We’re trying to alleviate that concern of the town’s. It’s a reasonable concern,” Lawler said.
Malta Supervisor Paul Sausville, who in the past has opposed altering the zoning, did not explicitly raise objections Wednesday.
“The devil is in the details,” he said.
Sausville did, however, note a concern that IDA-assisted properties don’t add to the town’s tax base — which he said costs Malta sales tax money, because of how towns’ share of sales tax is calculated.
The two towns prohibited property tax incentives when they created the technology campus in 2004. At the time, it was thought not to be an obstacle to development because the state’s Empire Zone program would reimburse eligible companies for their local property taxes. The Empire Zone program, however, expired in 2010.