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Amsterdam IDA, Montgomery County IDA review service-sharing proposal

Thursday, May 20, 2010
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— The structure of economic development in the city could change dramatically if a proposal by the Montgomery County Industrial Development Agency is approved by its Amsterdam counterpart.

The $35,000-per-year proposal originally offered by county IDA director Ken Rose last week would allow the county to take over AIDA’s executive functions along with its marketing and grant writing services.

Consolidating services with the county was seen as a cost-saving measure for AIDA. The AIDA board is currently facing a financial hardship — it lacks the funds needed to lure business to the city through loans and grants. A new budget is due June 30 for 2010-2011 and current figures show a $35,000 hole.

However, Rose pulled the proposal at Thursday’s meeting with the AIDA Board, after members of the Common Council voiced opposition to such a drastic change in the city’s economic development efforts without any discussion with city officials.

“Some of the council was upset that [AIDA] wanted to make such a drastic change without even talking to the council,” said Alderwoman Gina DeRossi, R-3rd Ward, liaison between AIDA and the Common Council.

Alderman William Wills, D-4th Ward, expressed his concerns last week about the secrecy of the move. He said Monday that he was in favor of consolidating services between the two IDAs, but was against the way it was handled — without any public discussion.

AIDA, which directs the city economic development efforts, is a separate entity from city government, with its own finances; but city officials have the power to appoint and remove members from the AIDA board.

Mayor Ann Thane said any structural changes with respect to AIDA should be discussed with city officials. “We are all facing a difficult economy, but this is really deserving of thoughtful action and informed decision making,” she said.

Thane said she is also worried because the city is one of the top contenders as a potential site for the state’s consolidated data center. If chosen, the city could see millions in private investments and an influx of state jobs to the Mohasco Technology Park.

AIDA board member Pat Baia said he thinks a financially stable organization with a comprehensive plan that includes the entire county would be more attractive to state officials.

“We’re not in a great fiscal position,” Baia said.

“By not duplicating services already provided by the county we can cut back on our expenses and make AIDA a more financially viable entity.”

AIDA’s director, Frank Valiante, said he was notified last week that the county’s proposal, if approved, would mean his job would be eliminated. He said he has no bad feelings toward the members of the AIDA board who told him the decision was not about performance, but about business.

AIDA board Chairman Daniel DeRossi, Gina DeRossi’s father, said if the contract with the county goes through, Rose would take over as director of both AIDA and the county IDA and Valiante would be out of a job, but until the proposal moves forward none of that will happen.

“We’re really in limbo,” he said.

Valiante said he hasn’t been looking for other job opportunities, rather still waiting to see how things play out.

Valiante makes just over $40,000 per year; his salary comes from AIDA.

AIDA board members indicated that they wouldn’t let Valiante go unless they could get Rose interested in taking over the job.

Rose said Tuesday that he would still be interested in directing AIDA and providing services that he already does at the county level. He said he was only concerned that city officials and AIDA weren’t on the same page.

“I’m not against getting involved, but like I said Thursday, they have to figure out what direction they want to go,” he said.

Thane said she sees some advantages to having the county and city work more closely together to create jobs and lure business to the area, but she would like to see more analysis done.

Members of the AIDA Board and Common Council are expected to meet at the beginning of June to discuss the county’s proposal. A date has not been scheduled.

 
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