By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO An effort to consolidate Sullivan County government’s two revolving loan fund boards into one was tabled Thursday in order to revisit the proposed board’s makeup.
Planning Commissioner Luiz Aragon presented the concept to legislators during the Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee meeting. The idea seemed to be met with interest, but the list of board members gave some legislators pause.
Culled from the existing Main Street Revolving Loan Fund Advisory Board and the Agri-Business Revolving Loan Fund Advisory Board, the nine suggested members were Phil Coombe of Coombe Financial Services, John Fitzpatrick of Crop Growers LLP, Tanya Hahn of Jeff Bank, Joe Walsh of Cornell Cooperative Extension, Allan Scott of both the Industrial Development Agency and the Partnership for Economic Development, Terri Ward of the Chamber of Commerce, Zane Morganstein of the Associated Mutual Insurance Company, Lynn McDonald of M&T Bank and Gerald Skoda of Skoda Consulting.
“At what point do we bring fresh names into the mix so it’s not the good ol’ boys club of Sullivan County,” Legislator David Sager questioned. “It’s a lot of the same names we’ve seen before and before and before.”
Legislator Ron Hiatt agreed with Sager.
“When you get appointed to some of these committees, you’re kind of like a committeeman for life,” he assessed.
Legislature Vice Chair Elwin Wood noted that these members were included because of their business associations, and Legislator Alan Sorensen agreed that those with financial experience are particularly valuable on a board that helps choose who will get government funds in the form of business loans.
Nevertheless, he remarked, “I think it’s always good to reach out [and] look for other names.”
“Put some real agriculture people on who have some vested interest,” seconded Sager, “not gentleman farmers.”
Legislator Leni Binder lamented that this discussion had not taken place prior to the names being publicly released, worrying that it would now look like “a witch hunt.”
But she too felt it advantageous to “get new blood and new interest in,” and with limited terms of service.
County Manager David Fanslau reminded legislators that the Legislature, not the advisory board, gets the final say on whether each proposed loan is approved.
“Appointing people to this committee is not giving them unchecked authority,” he noted.
“It’s not unchecked, but it’s almost unchecked,” Hiatt replied.
Of the proposed loan committee members, only Scott and Ward were present at the CED meeting, and neither publicly responded to the comments.
Legislators subsequently unanimously approved tabling the matter to this Thursday’s Executive Committee meeting, scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Government Center in Monticello.
other CED business
Elsewhere during the CED Committee meeting:
• Legislators unanimously agreed to pursue a federal grant to fund creation of a countywide Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy and Plan.
But Sorensen urged county officials to first avail themselves of already-created materials including a half-foot-thick plan he developed 13 years ago while county planning commissioner.
He said he was eager to see economic development proceed immediately, and he felt the documents in existence now could get up to a dozen projects off the ground in the short-term.
“We need to pick four or five initiatives and get them done,” Sorensen urged.
• Center for Workforce Development (CWD) Director Laura Quigley reported to legislators that about half of the 4,334 adults served by the CWD in 2010 were unemployed.
The CWD is the county’s version of a labor department, providing employment services to both workers and employers.
Quigley presented a variety of statistics showing how adults were utilizing the services in a severe recession, with the good news being that 62 percent of the unemployed clients 1,464 people found employment, and 72 percent of them retained it through the third quarter of 2010.