The city of Gloversville has committed to spend $1.55 million of its own money in a bid to win this year's $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant.
Earlier this month, the Common Council voted to spend a $1.15 million portion of the city's approximately $6.5 million savings on DRI projects. Another $400,000 would be earmarked to hire and compensate a downtown economic development director who would be responsible for administering the projects funded by the DRI grant for five years, should the city win the prize.
While Gloversville has applied for the state's annual regional economic development contest each of the last three years, it has lost to Oneonta, Rome and Amsterdam.
This year, officials are hoping that the city's funding commitment will help it beat Utica and Sharon Springs for the coveted $10 million prize.
"It's a commitment on our part, an indication of the seriousness of the city of Gloversville in moving this forward. The city is really putting its money where its mouth is," Mayor Vince DeSantis said.
Councilman-at-large Steve Smith was the one who suggested attempting to leverage part of the city's savings to attract the state investment. He said in past years feedback from the Mohawk Regional Economic Development Council, which decides which city to fund, has indicated Gloversville did not have enough economic development projects to attract the state funding.
"We believe we can mitigate that problem with putting some of our own capital in to augment the $10 million from the state," Smith said. "It's third grade math, spending $1.5 million to get $10 million is a pretty good deal.
Past contests have included a degree of secrecy, with each city not wanting the other competitors to know what was in its application until the presentations were made to the regional council.
This time around, Smith said the state wants the proposed projects vetted by public input first.
On May 20, the committee organizing the city's DRI application presented 15 major projects which would cost around $30 million to $40 million that it could include during a public forum at the Gloversville Public Library. The major items include:
- $5 million Glove Theatre restoration project
- $1 million Schine Building renovation
- $300,000 low interest downtown loan fund
- $1.4 million project to connect downtown to the Rail Trail and Cayadutta Creek
- $750,000 for enhancing downtown parking
- $1 million building improvement fund
- $500,000 renovation of the Rubin Glove factory building to build apartments and an art gallery
- $750,000 business incubator to be located at the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth
- $1 million project to create a barber school at the former Fulton County Barbershop building
DeSantis said Gloversville's $1.55 million would only be spent on public projects aimed at improving public spaces in the city.
"If we win the $10 million DRI, it would go a long way toward transforming Gloversville and putting us on a growth trajectory. When you make an investment it's with the idea that there will be a return on investment. It's not just spending money on something that's not going to make money," DeSantis said.
Robin Wentworth, who formerly served as the city's First Ward Councilwoman, said the purpose of building of Gloversville's fund balance was to prevent the city from going bankrupt. She said when she first took office in 2008, the city's finances were in dire condition, and she's fearful the council's decision to spend the savings could result in fiscal stress for the city later on.
"To me, it's a huge gamble of taxpayer's money," she said.
Gloversville's savings were built up largely thanks to increased sales tax from the Walmart Supercenter and the city's Smart Waters deal to sell water to areas outside the city. Yet, under former Mayor Dayton King's administration, the fund balance was used to lower the city's tax rate four times to its current rate of $19.95.
Critics of those policies have argued the tax cutting has come at the expense of city services, infrastructure and city personnel, including the elimination of the city's controversial seven-man minimum manning clause for its fire department.
DeSantis said he rejects the argument that Gloversville spending its reserves will result in a fiscal cliff that will endanger the city's ability to maintain its current services.
"If we don't get the DRI we aren't committed to spending that money. If we get the DRI, the fiscal cliff disappears, let's make it clear, if we get that DRI we don't have a fiscal cliff," he said.
This year's DRI contest applications are due to the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Council by May 31.