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JCJDC board to vote on dissolution today

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The Jefferson County Job Development Corp. is expected to get unplugged this morning.

The board of directors will meet for the final time to dissolve the agency, which was established in 1994 to become the county’s marketing arm serving the local business community. If board elects to dissolve, more than $300,000 in leftover funding from the agency will be allocated to Jefferson County under the plan; it’s then expected to be returned to the JCIDA, where it will be earmarked to continue marketing efforts.

The JCJDC’s dissolution is part of the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency’s efforts to comply with a ruling made by state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli in February 2012. Mr. DiNapoli ruled that those who worked for the agency’s nonprofit local development corporations did not work directly for the IDA, and therefore not employed by the agency; state pension benefits were revoked for the subagencies’ employees at the time. Thanks to the state Legislature’s passage of home-rule legislation in June, employees secured retroactive benefits to July 31, 2012.

The agency’s board of directors terminated employee agreements with three of its LDCs to make that happen: the JCJDC, Jefferson County Agricultural Development Corp.and Carthage Industrial Development Corp., which now functions independently.

The Watertown Local Development Corp., or Watertown Trust, was an IDA subagency that enrolled in a private pension system to comply with the plan and it now operates independently. The Watertown Industrial Center Local Development Corp. currently has an employment contract with the IDA for its three employees, but the board of directors is pursuing a plan for the agency to become a standalone entity.

The JCDC’s primary function was as the county’s marketing arm, and it had the authority as a governing body to approve funding for projects. The agency’s revenue was partly generated from its membership program, which drew widespread participation in the business community. In 2012, the program had 109 active members.

Marketing decisions previously made by the JCJDC’s 16 board members will now be made by the JCIDA board, which has seven members. Marketing and manufacturing committees that previously reported to the JCJDC have now become councils without governing authority, under the control of the JCIDA.

The JCIDA, which has spent more than $250,000 in legal fees to restructure its subagencies, is still awaiting an answer from the state comptroller’s office on whether it falls in line with state law. Depending on the state’s response, the agency could choose to keep its nine employees in the state pension system or enroll them in a private plan instead.

Leaders of the agency say it will lose out on the dissolution bargain made with the state. The JCIDA will no longer be assisted by marketing efforts made by the JCIDA board members, for instance, which included leaders from Jefferson County, the Development Authority of the North Country and city of Watertown. It will also lose the benefit of its membership program, which hosted quarterly breakfast meetings for the business community in the past. Education and workforce development programs previously hosted by the agency will now be taken over by the JCIDA.

“Each one of these board members discussed ideas for economic development, and went back into the community with those ideas to get reactions from constituents,” said Donald C. Alexander, the agency’s CEO. “We had this exchange of information working in the community, and it’s purpose was to focus on how we could do things better. We were able to pull all of these disparate groups of people under one umbrella, and in the beginning they thought the IDA was thought to be the mechanism for economic development. What we have done has proven to be successful.”

The JCIDA will now strive to continue that mission without the JCJDC board of directors and membership program, said Lance M. Evans, board president of the JCJDC. Losing expertise brought by the diverse mix of business leaders who served on the JCJDC’s board directors, he said, will be like emptying useful tools from a box of resources for economic growth.

“We pooled together our talents here, and our function was to spread information at breakfasts and board meetings,” he said. “We’d have a new speaker almost every month to learn about their businesses. I think that work will still go on here, but it will be more under the radar.”

If the JCJDC approves the dissolution plan today, it will then require approval from state Supreme Court to complete the process.

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