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Jefferson County Committees vote to support IDAs working with commercial agriculture, to spend extra bed tax revenue promoting tourism, and to create separate airport department

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Supporting commercial agriculture is a vital role of Jefferson County’s Industrial Development Agency, according to county legislators.

The Jefferson County Board of Legislators Planning and Development Committee gave its unequivocal support Tuesday night to an Assembly bill that would give IDAs throughout the state the ability “to provide technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers that grow, harvest, or produce agricultural products in New York state.”

“Agriculture is a major part of our economy and to have that not get equal consideration is just inconceivable,” said Legislator Barry M. Ormsby, R-Belleville, chairman of the committee. “We’re hoping that we can get cooperation from the Assembly.”

The JCIDA recently received a letter from the state comptroller’s office instructing it not to work with agri-businesses in Jefferson County, according to Legislator Michael J. Docteur, R-Cape Vincent, who also sits on the JCIDA board of directors.

The issue received attention last week after JCIDA’s CEO Donald C. Alexander revealed to New York State Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Darrel J. Aubertine that, due to an omission in the legislation that created IDAs, his organization was potentially operating beyond the scope of its powers by working with agriculture.

The revelation came as a shock to Mr. Aubertine, who called the omission a “missing link.”

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, said the goal of the legislation is to explicitly include agriculture in the definition for economic development.

As for the passage of the bill, “To me it seems like something we should be able to do without much trouble,” Mrs. Russell said.

Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, who served two terms as chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators before being elected to the state Assembly, signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill Tuesday.

Mr. Blankenbush was a member of the board when the position of agricultural coordinator was first created at the JCIDA. The position has been occupied by Jay M. Matteson since its creation in 2001.

“I supported that position then and I certainly would support that position now,” Mr. Blankenbush said.

During Mr. Aubertine’s presentation, Mr. Alexander said he would continue to work with agriculture but by doing so he was putting Mr. Matteson and the rest of his staff at risk.

“Give me clarity. That’s all I’m looking for,” Mr. Alexander said Tuesday.

The bill is with the Local Governments Committee but has not yet been added to the committee agenda, according to Mrs. Russell.

spending the bed tax

The County’s Planning and Development Committee also voted to spend $150,000 of its occupancy tax surplus to fund five programs that will promote tourism in the county.

The county has recently experienced a boom in occupancy tax funds as population growth in Jefferson County has fostered an increase in hotel rooms.

Occupancy tax is assessed at a rate of 3 percent of daily room charges. Revenue is split between the county and the cities and towns where the hotels are located.

The programs are:

n Promote the Jefferson County Wine Trail. Cost: $25,000.

n Obtain High Definition video and photography of county tourism highlights. Cost: $25,000.

n Promote county fishing resources. Cost: $40,000 with an additional $60,000 from the state.

n Promote county historic sites. Cost: $10,000 with an additional $100,000 from the state.

n Market the Watertown International Airport to Canadian business and leisure air travelers in Eastern Ontario and the border region. Cost: $50,000.

Mr. Ormsby, chairman of the sponsoring committee, said the $50,000 will be spent at the airport “to continue to demonstrate to our carrier — American Eagle — that we are still experiencing growth” with the ultimate goal of moving toward three daily weekday flights.

Airport going solo

In other airport-related matters, members of the General Services Committee voted to establish a separate Airport Department.

The airport currently falls under the Highway Department and is managed by County Highway Superintendent James L. Lawrence.

“It’s grown too much,” according to General Services Chairman Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing, and needs its own department.

The county will be looking for an airport manager and money for the position has already been set aside in the budget. The salary will be approximately $60,000.

The local law establishing the Airport Department will first be the subject of a public hearing at 7 p.m. June 4 in the Board of Legislators Chambers at 195 Arsenal Street.

The end goal is to make the airport an enterprise fund — a business running inside a government that is self-sustaining and capable of turning a profit, according to Mr. Reed.

The committee also conducted a brief discussion about a draft local law governing the disposal of solid waste written by the Development Authority of the North Country.

Flow control, enforcement of the law, permitting of trash haulers and the mandatory use of clear garbage bags were the four points debated.

The committee passed its recommendations on to the county administration, who will take the suggestions into account and prepare a draft that will be further tweaked by the committee before being voted on.

Flow control, a provision stipulating that any trash generated in the county must be sent to the county’s designated solid waste disposal facility, was dismissed as a nonissue at the meeting.

The measure will likely not be included in the version of the local law that is eventually brought forward to be considered by the full board.

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