Rebuttal - When is a deal a good deal?
Posted in the Ticonderoga Forum
#1 Sep 30, 2013
Part 1 of 2
The Times of Ti published a guest viewpoint column by Mr. Alex Levitch, past Chairman of the Ticonderoga Revitalization Alliance, on September 25, 2013. You should read the column in last weeks paper or view it online at http://www.denpubs.com/news/2013/sep/26/when-... .
The Adirondack Meat Company (AMC) is indeed a done deal. In fact, it has been under construction for quite some time. Apparently Mr. Levitch hasnt driven by the project site or he missed the rather wide coverage of a late August press release from the North Country Regional Economic Development Council. The AMC is not just a meat processing and distribution plant, but it will also be a local retailer of the meats it will be processing.
Mr. Levitch also seems unaware that projects of this size, scale and location undergo a public review process, including locally by the Town planning board and regionally by the Adirondack Park Agency. If the Ticonderoga Revitalization Alliance (TRA) was serious about their concerns that the AMC project could adversely affect our communitys revitalization efforts, they would have been aware of this process and would have been active participants in it. They were not, and they did not. Had TRA been paying attention through what has been a lengthy project development process for the AMC, Mr. Levitchs wouldnt be asking many of his questions about the economic and environmental impact. Most of these have all been previously addressed, and are part of the public record at both the local and regional levels.
Mr. Levitch asks Could this (the AMC project) ever be a good thing for the cause of economic advancement? It certainly can be if you value such things as food security, increased productive use of our open lands and agricultural soils and value-added production of local agricultural products. Perhaps hes unaware that fewer miles traveled for livestock to processing facilities equates into a higher quality product which then often translates into an higher retail value for the meat. Im uncertain where Mr. Levitchs poor pitted against poor analogy comes from, but it seems misplaced at best.
I believe that the local planning initiative completed twice he refers to is the 2009 Destination Master Plan (DMP). While the DMP was a valuable undertaking, it is not the only adopted vision for economic revitalization for either Ticonderoga or the region. Perhaps TRA has forgotten (as many others have) the 2006 Ticonderoga Comprehensive Plan. On page 108, the comprehensive plan states unequivocally that Ticonderoga should support a range of farm-related businesses including the processing of agricultural products, retail sales of farm produce and related goods, and agri-tourism in an effort to ensure that the towns agricultural operations remain economically viable.
On a regional level, it seems that Mr. Levitch and the TRA are unaware of the objectives and policies supporting agriculture and agribusiness in these documents:
The 2011 Five Year Strategic Plan produced by the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.
The May 2013 North Country Regional Sustainability Plan
When you view all of these local and regional economic development policy documents as a whole, a much broader vision emerges of what constitutes economic development and community revitalization. In stark contrast, a review of the materials on the TRA website reveals an astonishingly narrow area of economic concern. Is there no place for support of our agricultural heritage and agribusinesses in the TRA vision of community revitalization?
#2 Sep 30, 2013
Part 2 of 2
Regarding who has invested in the AMC project, the private investors presumably include the project sponsors and perhaps others. TRA itself has been notoriously secretive about its own investors, so Mr. Levitch will certainly understand if AMC does not share its own sources of initial private capital investment. Public investors include New York State through the projects consolidated funding application award and the Essex County Industrial Development Agency. Those amounts are part of the public record, and available to anyone who chooses to do their own research.
The project permitting application to the Adirondack Park Agency prominently noted that 12 full time jobs are anticipated to be created. Who will fill these jobs and the wages to be paid may or may not be public information. The jobs to be created by the AMC project will undoubtedly pay more than the retail and service sector jobs TRA hopes to promote through their tourism-focused efforts.
To my knowledge, the only financial investment the Town may have in this project is any local municipal funds that were used years ago toward the creation of the industrial park. Given the slow rate of development of this park (which is not unusual for our region), the Town is long overdue for a return. Returns on investment for the Town will likely include higher skilled employment levels, property taxes (upon the expiration of any Payment in Lieu of Taxes [PILOT] arrangement through the Essex County IDA ), and the local share of sales taxes generated from both the AMC retail operation and the purchases made with employee wages within Essex County. There will also likely be returns to the Town through the increased revenues local farms will be able to generate. A typical conservative formula used by economists is that the annual economic impact of new industrial development will be about three times the total wages paid.
After providing many uninformed - and at times insulting - statements and questions about the origins and expected impacts of the AMC project, Mr. Levitch then surprisingly closes his column with an obscurely worded request for Town financial support of the Ticonderoga Revitalization Alliance.
Support for what, Mr. Levitch? For an economic development effort created under a premise of funding through private individuals and businesses whose funding has long since dried up? For an organization whose Board of Directors oversaw the rapid hemorrhaging of its own finances? For an organization whose Board of Directors failed to control staffing levels, salaries (no local economic developer in the North Country is worth a $90,000 annual salary!) and work plan?
The Ticonderoga Revitalization Alliance in its short history - has been so poorly managed by its Board of Directors that (a) it is now in the red (see their publicly posted financial statements),(b) it apparently can no longer afford office space and (c) it is now run by an unpaid volunteer Executive Director.
Mr. Levitchs request is as confusing as it is worded. TRA is clearly not an organization worth any public investment by the Town, especially in this time of severe fiscal constraints and difficult budgeting choices. The Town should let TRA continue circling the drain with private funding and volunteer staffing.
#3 Oct 2, 2013
Mr. Levitch has issued a half-hearted apology of sorts in response to criticisms of last weeks Guest Column. His letter to the editor is available at http://www.denpubs.com/news/2013/oct/02/apolo... and will presumably be printed in this weeks Times of Ti newspaper. Please make a point of reading it.
He begins by pointing out that his comments are only his own, and yet continues to sign his writing with his honorary title and Ticonderoga Revitalization Alliance (TRA) affiliation. Simply noting instead in his closing that he resides in Putnam would have been more appropriate, meaningful and consistent with his disclaimer.
He ends his mea culpa with a continued call for Town funding of economic development efforts. Once again, the presumption given his continued use of his title and affiliation in his writing is that he means funding for the TRA.
If he follows the state of local government finance in New York State including the constraints and effects of the property tax cap law Mr. Levitch would understand that in most communities statewide budgeting is now a zero-sum exercise. In order to appropriate any funds for a new budget line, a Town, Village or City must now have either find a new revenue source to offset that spending or they must reduce spending elsewhere.
Neither Ticonderogas local property tax base nor the local share of sales tax revenues are growing fast enough to be covered by the +/- 2% maximum allowed growth rate in property tax revenue. And we already know other new funding priorities are under consideration by the Town Board, including support for the ambulance squad and a capital improvement program for maintenance and repairs to public buildings.
For the Town to allocate 2-3% of its total budget to support the economic development efforts of TRA means that an equivalent amount must be reduced from other budget lines.
Shall we further reduce road maintenance to support TRA? Our current road budget cant keep up with the normal maintenance requirements as it is.
Should we instead stop repair and replacement of our outdated and often functionally obsolete water and sewer systems?
Perhaps we should just stop paying engineers to seek out and design alternatives for a safe and reliable public water supply instead. Or lets just let the town buildings fall into further disrepair.
The Town already supports economic development through membership in the Chamber of Commerce. If you read the newspapers or follow the Chambers activities online, you know how many business support and promotion services they offer their members. You also know how they work closely with the NYS Small Business Development Center to provide assistance for business start-ups.
Taxpayer funds are also used to support the Essex County Industrial Development Agency, the regional staff of Empire State Development (a NYS agency) and the operations of the North Country Regional Economic Development Agency (a NYS agency).
All of these organizations and agencies have proven financial management track records that could work proverbial circles around the TRA.
Again, review TRAs online financial records.(If these are somehow dropped from the TRA website, they are also found on NYS websites.)
Thanks for the apology, Mr. Levitch. Now tell the remaining members of the TRA Board of Directors find revenues either through grant funds or though those fabled private investors.
The Town should not support TRA until it has a proven and documented track record that shows its Board of Directors can manage its resources effectively and efficiently.
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