By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
JOHNSTOWN -- Local officials gathered at Fulton-Montgomery Community College Thursday afternoon to take part in a roundtable discussion on the myriad ways in which regional economic and industrial development efforts can impact local municipalities.
Hosted by The Institute for Infrastructure Asset Management (IIAM) and lead by IIAM Executive Director Dimitri Grivas, the forum focused on the "paradox" created when the economic growth threatens to negatively impact the "livability and sustainability" of the communities it is meant to benefit.
"Development activities create unforeseen consequences to communities with no easy solutions," Grivas told forum attendees.
Before solutions could be offered, however, Grivas said it was critical to first be able to accurately define the scope of the problem.
"We cannot solve the problem if we don't have a clear vision of it," Grivas said. "Clearly a problem of this nature calls for a definition that is universally acceptable."
In the Fulton/Montgomery region, Grivas noted, increased development along the Route 30A corridor in Johnstown is threatening to impact both the quality of life and the infrastructure of the communities that lie between the growing industrial park and the New York State Thruway in Fultonville.
The negative effects, Grivas said, include increased traffic congestion, increased emissions and untold stresses being placed on local infrastructure, including roadways, water and sewer systems.
"Is the economic development effort budgeted adequately to also address the physical infrastructure," Grivas asked. "Who's going to pay for it?"
Adding to the difficulties in this region, Grivas said, is that the economic development and its impacts span several municipal boundaries.
Increased communication and a more "holistic approach" to the issue must be part of the solution, Grivas said.
"We should be looking at it from everybody's perspective," he said.
The forum also briefly discussed the proposed bypass as a possible solution. The two counties recently received word that they had been awarded a $400,000 grant to study the issue.
The grant, however, requires a local match of $100,000. Though Fulton County approved funding its $50,000 share, Montgomery County did not.
Fulton County Planning Director Jim Mraz said the counties' ability to address the issues created by increased economic development really comes down to little more than availability of resources.
"Most municipalities are struggling to find money to maintain their roads and buy sand and salt," Mraz said. "That's just a fiscal reality."
Grivas said the problem is not that there is a lack of available resources, noting the plethora of state and federal grants available. It's more that the local municipalities simply don't know how to ask.
"The problem that we see with municipalities is that they need money, but are without a planned approach to obtain funding," Grivas said.
Fonda Mayor Bill Peeler, who said he supports the bypass study, said his community's ability to upgrade and maintain its infrastructure has been severely crippled in recent years due, in most part, to the increased commercial traffic on Route 30A.
Peeler said the village has lost more than 100-percent of its property tax revenue as the result of having lost more than half its population in recent years. Peeler attributed that loss to quality of life issues.
"When we talk bout the entities that are benefiting on the Fulton County side, they do not benefit us in property taxes," Peeler said.
"What I think has happened is we fell asleep a little bit at the wheel," he added, explaining that the he did not believe economic development officials took into account the infrastructure and quality of life issues that would result from it.
Grivas agreed, saying those issues should have been taken into account from the start of the development growth and accountability for its impacts needs to be built into any economic development plan.
"The question is: Are you organized adequately as communities to deal with the challenges you face?" Grivas asked, adding that part of the solution has to create a more "two-countywide" strategic thinking.
"Money is obviously an issue, but I detect another issue, an underlying issue -- the issue of credibly asking for the money?"
Northampton Town Supervisor Linda Kemper argued, however, that she did not believe the manner in which the funding has been requested mattered as much as the size of the communities requesting it.
Kemper said the regional economic development councils are structured specifically to benefit the larger communities.
"It's not even feasible," said Kemper. "We can't compete, plain and simple."
The group plans to meet again early next year. Participants were asked to return with lists outline the specific needs of their community. Funding opportunities are also expected to be discussed.