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Dan Hust | Democrat

Jeffersonville farmer and Sullivan County Farm Network co-founder Cindy Gieger fervently makes a point to the county’s Industrial Development Agency Board on Tuesday.

IDA vows its focus remains on agriculture

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — December 17, 2010 — The Sullivan County Farm Network took its passionate message to the county’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA) on Tuesday.
Co-founder Cindy Gieger, a Jeffersonville dairy farmer, asked the IDA Board to consider more ways it can help struggling farmers – the kind that otherwise face imminent closure of their businesses.
Those farms, she said, are the bedrock foundation for a host of support businesses.
“We need to remain viable at the bottom,” Gieger remarked. “... We have all these businesses that – without us – they’re done!”
The board seemed supportive, but the atmosphere turned slightly sour when Gieger related the results of her search of the IDA’s website.
“I have a list of 68 IDA projects,” she explained, “and not one has reached directly to a farm.”
She also criticized the revolving loan fund, saying it has “historically failed farmers because they cannot take on any more loans.”
IDA Executive Director Jennifer Brylinski exhibited a rare moment of anger, frustratedly replying that the IDA has increasingly dedicated most of its resources to enhancing agriculture in the county.
“In the last three years, we’ve turned our total focus on agriculture,” Brylinski noted. “We’ve put every penny we’ve had into agriculture!”
She pointed out that the coming red meat processing facility in Liberty, still wallowing through difficult stormwater design issues, has been a significant but worthwhile risk for the agency.
“We’ve put our whole reputation on getting this red meat facility done,” Brylinski said. “... We can’t make our budget this year because of that!”
Callicoon Center farmer and Farm Network co-founder Sonja Hedlund, however, pointed out that the $1.6 million slaughterhouse may not be operative until 2012.
“How about working on some grant programs for farmers now?” she queried, offering her services as an experienced grantwriter.
IDA CEO Allan Scott said ag-oriented programs have been and continue to be developed, including a $500,000 agribusiness loan fund and a Baez Associates-created guide to capturing all kinds of available funding for agriculture.
“We get criticized in many cases,” Scott lamented, “but we have attempted to help. ... Agriculture is one of the targeted industries of the IDA.”
He promised to contact another area farmer, Dan Young, who is developing an idea for what Gieger described as a “Ben & Jerry’s-type creamery” in the county.
“We will throw everything we can to assist in that effort,” he stated.
Based on an idea proffered by Gieger and Hedlund, Scott also urged the board to discuss using payments from the Millennium Pipeline to aid ag efforts – payments that amount to $100,000 a year and were just freed up after an upstate county settled litigation with Millennium.
That discussion may take place as early as the next IDA Board meeting, currently scheduled for Tuesday, January 11 at 10 a.m. Open to the public, the meetings are held inside the Government Center in Monticello.
Distillery gets extension
Elsewhere during Tuesday’s meeting, the board unanimously approved extending the Catskill Distilling Company’s sales tax abatement for another year.
Located next to the Dancing Cat Saloon in Bethel, the distillery is getting ready to open.
Co-owner Stacy Cohen wrote to the board that she still has to buy a walk-in freezer, build decks and patios, construct a kitchen, install outside lighting and complete the interior.
These efforts feature purchases that are all eligible for sales tax abatements, per the agreement between the distillery and the IDA (which actually owns the distilling equipment and is leasing it to the company).
Upon questioning by Hedlund of the wisdom of handing out tax breaks during a period of economic hardship throughout the county, IDA Board member Ed Sykes pointed out that these abatements are not an addition to the project but are part of the original agreement.
And the saloon, added board member Charlie Barbuti, is owned by the same company and is collecting and paying sales taxes now.

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