Out of sync in Saratoga
Whether Saratoga Springs ever gets a casino or not, the good times have been rolling in Saratoga County in recent years. And the Saratoga Economic Development Corp. has been a big part of it, marketing the county, managing property, making loans, negotiating deals with developers and companies that included various tax and other incentives. But the SEDC risks losing its favored status, and the county a strong economic development program, unless a spat between the SEDC and the county Board of Supervisors is resolved.
At this point it’s more than a spat, it’s a split. County officials announced in April that, after more than three decades of using the privately run, nonprofit SEDC to attract businesses, the county would be ending the relationship at the end of the year. The reason is that the county, which has funded the SEDC to the tune of $1.7 million over the last five years, wants more accountability — in the form of transparency and a seat for the county on the agency’s board — and the SEDC won’t provide it.
While there are no allegations of wrongdoing on the part of the SEDC, as there were in Fulton County where leaders of the Economic Development Corp. gave themselves million-dollar bonuses without anyone’s approval or knowledge, the attitudes and issues are similar. Like that agency, although the SEDC receives public money and hands out government grants, loans and tax forgiveness, it insists that it’s a private entity and therefore not subject to open government laws.
The state Authorities Budget Office, established by the Legislature in 2009 as part of an effort to increase accountability from agencies that act as shadow governments, disagrees. Citing their public funding, public purpose and use of public incentives, it has ruled that such bodies are public agencies subject to state laws.
But it’s not just a legal question, it’s a strategic one. If the split does happen, efforts will be duplicated, wasting time and money. The county’s economic development program will be fragmented and confused, rather than focused and clear, sending the wrong message to businesses. And the county’s chances of winning state grants through Gov. Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council process could be hurt as well.
The county is right about the need for more transparency. The only way the SEDC can avoid it if it becomes a truly private entity — without the ability to even hand out government incentives. It shouldn’t want that, and neither should the county. The two sides should keep talking and work this out.