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Grant combo could help fund Lewis office project


LOWVILLE — A combination of federal and state programs could help fund Lewis County’s office building project expected to exceed $10 million, the county’s government relations consultant said.

“This is not a project that is going to be done by one source,” Jennifer B. Granzow from Wladis Law Firm, East Syracuse, said at Friday’s legislative Ways and Means, Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting.

Wladis officials discussed four grant programs that could help fund the construction project, slated for outer Stowe Street next to the Public Safety Building.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development’s community facilities program favors locations with relatively low populations and income levels, according to Leann I. West, who handles government relations at Wladis.

“I think, unfortunately, we would score great on both of them,” said committee Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham.

State agencies that could be tapped include the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority for energy efficiency initiatives such as a wood-chip boiler system, the state Office of Homes and Community Renewal for its Community Development Block Grant program and Empire State Development’s capital grant funding, Wladis officials said.

Mrs. West suggested that the regional economic development council should be lobbied about the project, since it would have a say in some of the funding. “We do think we can make an economic development argument for this project,” she said, noting that the county is a large employer and that the project would free up office space around the village for commercial use.

The proposed building would effectively eliminate the county’s reliance on rented office space, nearly all of which is currently for sale, and roughly $300,000 in annual lease payments. The Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services has expressed interest in renting the former St. Peter’s Catholic School on Shady Avenue, which now houses several county offices.

State agencies that oversee the county departments slated to go in the new building also may offer some financial help, Ms. Granzow said.

County officials had been told to expect about $4.5 million in state funding through the Department of Social Services, which would take up about half the space in the structure. “But we’re not sure if it’s still there in that quantity,” said Legislator Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden.

Lawmakers are to meet Tuesday morning with representatives from Jack Venesky CPA & Associates, Cicero, to get an updated estimate.

On the county’s behalf, Bernier, Carr & Associates, Watertown, in 2011 designed a three-story building with an unfinished top floor dedicated solely to future needs that was to cost about $10.4 million. However, that project was effectively put on hold in early 2012 as ongoing budget difficulties and projects such as an emergency radio system upgrade took precedence.

County officials estimated they have spent about $700,000 on design work for the project.

Committee members on Friday also requested that Wladis officials set up a meeting with staff from the state comptroller’s office, as the firm recently did on St. Lawrence County’s behalf, to suggest possible cost-saving measures.

“I don’t see where it would hurt,” Mr. Bush said. Such a meeting, which would take place in Utica, could happen within three or four weeks, Mrs. West said.

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