PODCAST: Discussing economic development in Seneca Falls

Economic development is a daunting task. But with the right people in place — it’s not impossible.

The message is a resoundingly positive one from members of the Seneca Falls Development Corporation (SFDC), which is focused on bringing businesses, jobs, and economic prosperity to the historic community.

Joell Murney-Karsten, Chair of the SFDC joined Josh Durso on the Inside the FLX podcast with newly named Director Greg Zellers.

“There’s a lot of great things happening right now, and some exciting growth coming,” Murney-Karsten explained in the moments leading up to the interview.

Zellers, who has a background in digital marketing and creative design explained that his focus was going to be on attracting and facilitating growth — instead of the “pull initiative,” which he noted is commonly executed.

He explained that it meant attracting businesses without seeking tax breaks. “[Seneca Falls] can’t do that, it has to be an ‘attraction’ effort, rather than a ‘pull initiative’.”

As for Seneca Falls in present day — there is plenty of opportunity for development. Part of Zellers mission over his first two months serving as director of the Seneca Falls Development Corporation — has involved pulling together a master list of properties available in Seneca Falls for sale.

“The SFDC was developed as an arm of Town Council, but there needs to be an entity that can help businesses and companies move through the process of coming to Seneca Falls,” Murney-Karsten explained.

“It also comes down to eliminating hurdles, or making them as small as possible,” Zellers added.

5StarMedical recently purchased the old Village Hall in Seneca Falls, which is located on State Street. Upon the Seneca Falls Police Department’s exit from that location — George Tilton, founder and CEO of the company will house corporate and manufacturing headquarters in Seneca Falls.

5StarMedical’s plans include the long-term goal in the coming years to bolster that manufacturing aspect of the business here in Seneca Falls. The plan includes adding 50 or more jobs at those facilities in Seneca Falls.

Another exciting development in Seneca Falls is the sale of the former Hospital and adjoined building near VanCleef Lake. The two buildings, which at one time housed a hospital and former-municipal structure are joined underground by a tunnel.

Longley Jones, who is in the process of purchasing the property — was interested in both buildings. That interest turned into a deal, which will allow the company to develop an array of opportunities.

Their efforts will be centered around the location of the property, which could serve as an impressive attraction for those visiting the area from outside Seneca Falls.

Both Zellers and Murney-Karsten noted that the biggest opportunity for Seneca Falls, and those businesses entering — or considering doing business here — is the prospect of grants. Zellers pointed out that many of the old, historic buildings in Seneca Falls would qualify for development grants to restore them.

“The vision isn’t about building new, giant, steel structures in Seneca Falls. It’s about taking advantage of the great things already here,” Zellers closed.

The Seneca Falls Development Corporation will be providing regular updates to the community as they move through the economic development process.

Their first mission is finalizing an update to the development plan, which was created nearly a decade ago. Zellers noted that taking advantage of resources that weren’t as prominent then, and can have a big impact today will be a major part of the mission in the coming months.

They will also be launching a new website, which will provide the community, as well as prospective businesses, access to helpful resources.

PODCAST: Melina Carnicelli, Betty Bayer discuss Women’s March in Seneca Falls

Everyone involved in organizing the ‘Women March in Seneca Falls’ event scheduled for Saturday knew it had the potential to grow incredibly large.

The event, which is scheduled for Saturday was previewed by two organizers. Former Auburn Mayor Melina Carnicelli and Betty Bayer, joined Josh Durso on the Inside the FLX podcast to talk about how that event blossomed into arguably the largest one featured the historic community over the last few years.

There was a presidential visit a few years ago, the annual events — like the ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ 5K and festival, which draws more than 5,000 to Seneca Falls for one weekend in December — but Saturday’s march in solidarity with women around the U.S. could eclipse all of those.

“We do need to talk about the issues,” Carnicelli said during the 30 minute conversation. She explained that the entire concept for the march in Seneca Falls came one morning, just a day after committing to go to Washington D.C. over this weekend.

Ironically, both Carnicelli and Bayer had planned originally to attend a march in Washington.

Bayer was coaxed into taking part in the event by Carnicelli. Both talked about how those organizers, who have dedicated an enormous amount of time to coordinating this event — have played a crucial role.

For Bayer, who is a longtime professor at Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva, involvement was a no-brainer. “The historical context is important,” she explained citing the role that Seneca Falls has played since 1848.

“We need to elevate the discourse around important issues,” Carnicelli explained. The goal of the event as a whole is to shed light on a historical moment — but also show solidarity with those who are fighting for a variety of issues. “We also must play a role in addressing the misrepresentation of various issues,” she continued.

The rally will feature representatives, speakers and musical guests from around the region. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner will be the featured speaker during the afternoon. Around 30 people are expected to speak, or perform during the day’s event.

When asked what the call to action is around this event, Carnicelli conceded that it comes down to vigilance. “Be vigilant each-and-every day. It’s about joining nationally and elevating discourse across party lines.”

Speaking to her experience in municipal government, Carnicelli said that she’s leaned on that moving through this process. “I’ve organized a lot of events, but this one is special,” she concluded.

Check out the Women March in Seneca Falls on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @WomenMarchSF.

Listen to the entire podcast by using the media player embedded above, or by clicking here.

COLUMN: Sharing sales tax will only address part of the problem

Every little bit helps.

Creating a “Sales Tax Sharing Committee” in Seneca County to explore the feasibility, interest, and methods of execution was a logical first step. There were many questions, and many questions still remain today.

After the most recent meeting of that committee, the go ahead was given to move the issue to Government Operations, another standing committee within the Board of Supervisors, who could eventually push the issue of sales tax sharing to a full-board vote.

This isn’t a groundbreaking idea, though. The act of sharing sales tax dollars from the county down to individual municipalities is commonplace. It happens in almost every other county in New York state.

I like the principle behind sales tax sharing. It offers assistance to municipalities, especially small or unique ones that have extenuating circumstances.

Take Junius for example: It’s an incredibly small municipality, but one that generates a significant portion of that sales tax.

Another example: Several small municipalities at the southern end of the county could greatly benefit from any amount of money pushed into their local budget.

It all comes down to taxing. Having greater revenues — or at the very least, an additional revenue stream — helps keep local taxes down.

While no precise plan has been put forward, the broad strokes look something like this:

Seneca County would share a certain percentage (say, 50 percent) of additional sales tax revenue over the current, or expected average for sales tax revenue. If the county typically sees $23 million in sales tax revenue, and in 2018 it drives in $28 million, half of that additional $5 million would be divvied up and sent out to all villages and towns.

This discussion of growing sales tax revenue stems from the opening of the del Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, which will bring greater traffic and more spending to the county.

While supervisors and mayors around Seneca County seemed to be mixed on how they’d like to see that money split up — whether it be by population, assessed value, or a simple, even split between all — there seems to be mild interest in the subject right now.

Ultimately, it will be a decision for the supervisors. Mayors throughout the county have skin in the game, but they won’t get a vote on the matter, which brings us back to one potential roadblock for this very idealistic plan.

For sales tax sharing to work, it seems that it would require two things to happen:

First, sales tax revenue has to increase. It seems like a forgone conclusion that it will increase to some degree. However, it isn’t entirely clear by how much. Most of those involved seem to just want the mechanism in place; even if it doesn’t yield a huge return in year one, or two, which is a positive sign.

In my estimation though, there is a second requirement to make this system work. Costs and expenses have to be shrinking at the county level. You can have an increase in revenue, but if there also is an increase in expense — whether it be because of a need for greater services in a growing economy or due to growing state mandated expenses — a seesaw effect will be created.

In other words, it comes down to this argument over who is more deserving of spending the money: If a town or village tax goes down, and the county tax is increased, how much is actually gained from the system?

There has to be a better way of addressing the problems that arise at the hyper-local level. Villages and towns are left to fend for themselves, while the county remains the primary beneficiary of sales tax revenue, which is driven by economic development and growth. Small municipalities around the county are stressed by development and growth, which has to be approached with the same big picture mentality that attracts that growth in the first place.

If the county had fewer mandates for which to budget, imagine the benefit that larger entity could be to municipalities within it. Infrastructure — such as water and sewer upgrades, services like fire and EMS and so many more — could all be part of a large, big picture solution that could help every taxpayer across the board.

This column originally appeared in the Finger Lakes Times. Read all of Josh’s columns from the Finger Lakes Times here.

PODCAST: Jackie Augustine discusses what’s next for Geneva, FLX

Former Geneva City Councilwoman Jackie Augustine joins Josh Durso in-studio to discuss the issues important to Geneva and the entire Finger Lakes region heading into 2017.

COLUMN: Depot land “sale” deal stirs the pot in Seneca Co.

The former Seneca Army Depot property will be leased for a year, or two.

Late in December, municipalities hold meetings to wrap up the year’s activity, pay bills and take care of any outstanding issues that remain on the table. One practice that should be made regular is taking stock of the year. It should mean looking at everything that has happened, owning the decisions that have been made, and looking at ways the following year can be better.

Using the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency as a case study with its handling of the former Seneca Army Depot — all of those aforementioned board behaviors could have made next year a whole lot more certain.

The IDA voted nearly unanimously to lease the roughly 7,000 acres to bid process winner Earl Martin. The only problem was that the bid process was executed to find a buyer, not a renter.

Let’s not forget: When the Seneca County Board of Supervisors decided that they did not want the county taking on responsibility of the property, as was proposed by a few from the board, the overwhelming consensus was that they desired two things out of a deal.

1) A buyer should be found so that the property can go back on the tax roll.

2) The county should not get into the business of being landlords.

I realize some will argue that the IDA is, technically, the leasing body. However, the Seneca County IDA serves at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors. That body holds the power to add individuals to the IDA at their discretion, and they appoint a representative from the elected board to sit on the IDA each year.

Over the weekend, the Auburn Citizen reported that the lease agreement was causing a stir among some of those bidders who weren’t selected. Additionally, there is disappointment among those represented in Seneca County who feel like the process was for naught.

That process was carried out behind closed doors. The bidders were not publicized until after one had been selected — and, throughout the entire process, that move was billed as a way to ensure the integrity of the process.

That integrity though certainly seems to be called into question by the decision of the IDA to bypass a sale, and go with a “lease” while the winner works on getting the tax assessment sorted out.

There are more questions about the process, result and actual plan Martin devised than has been publicized. The lease deal works out perfectly for the IDA, since they will be the chief beneficiary of the $900,000 price tag.

Taxpayers will not see a new, large property be added to the tax roll. Businesses and residents won’t see any more certainty in Romulus due to this lease. In fact, it gives all parties involved an option for an “easy out” if things don’t go according to plan. The IDA will get paid no matter what, Martin would only lose the money he paid up front, and everything else would effectively be reset.

Perhaps most important, the process seems to have removed accountability and placed the burden back on the taxpayer. Legally speaking, it’s a complicated item to discuss — the viability and success of an industrial development agency. However, the decisions they make have an impact on a lot of people.

In that Citizen story, Bob Aronson said that “not enough bids for bits and pieces” came in to the IDA to facilitate a complete deal. In saying that, the IDA is acknowledging that they didn’t want to get into the business of being “property developer” or “landlord.”

The statements and actions of the IDA run counter to their so-called mission. Frankly, they even run counter to the things they’ve said in the past. What Seneca County has been left with is a mixed bag of confusion, uncertainty and questions.

In Seneca County, it’s time for elected officials, appointed representatives, and residents alike to take stock and look forward for better solutions.

This column originally appeared in the Finger Lakes Times. Read all of Josh’s columns from the Finger Lakes Times here.