County panel OKs creation of economic development position

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They asked questions and expressed reservations for more than an hour, but ultimately members of a legislative panel voted 8-0 in favor of creating the post of Oneida County economic development director.

The next stop in the approval process for County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr.’s proposal is the Board of Legislators’ Ways and Means Committee Wednesday morning. If it passes muster there, as seems likely, the proposal goes to the full board later in the day. Picente’s thinking is that economic development in the county is so important and multifaceted that county government needs its own full-time booster, in addition to the work now being done for the county by Mohawk Valley EDGE under contract.

If the legislators agree with him, the job could be filled before the year ends. The position would report directly to the county executive. A salary of $84,264 is requested.

When the Economic Development and Tourism Committee took up the request to create the position and set the salary on Sept. 6, members’ inquiries ranged from whether the new post would be a duplication of services to the salary amount and qualifications in the job description to what the fiscal impact would be on EDGE, and more. No criticism of EDGE was voiced during the discussion while compliments were heaped upon the nonprofit organization. There seemed to be general agreement in the room that EDGE was doing all it was asked to do, but there was still more that could be done. Agriculture was mentioned several times.

“This is about doing something better,” Al Candido, the county executive’s chief of staff, told the panel.

It was noted by Legislator Edward P. Welsh, R-19, Utica, the committee chairman, that EDGE is heavily focused at the moment on continuing the infrastructure development at the Marcy Nanocenter site and efforts to attract a computer chip manufacturer to this site, as well as working on behalf of construction of a hospital in downtown Utica. He suggested the director proposal wouldn’t be in play if a computer chip plant and the hospital weren’t on EDGE’s plate.

“We need more hands on the lever,” he said. Welsh was an advocate of the proposal throughout the meeting.

Among the points raised by committee members were:

Salary and post’s qualifications

Legislator Brian P. Mandryck, R-17, Lee, asked whether requiring a bachelor’s degree — with no specific major listed — was enough for the education component of the job description. He also had doubts about the salary of nearly $85,000.

“To me, it seems high right now,” he said.

Personnel Commissioner John P. Talerico said the qualification section sets only the minimums and does not preclude someone who has higher educational credentials from applying. He said the intent was to keep the requirements broad in hopes of attracting a wide range of applicants.

As for the salary, the commissioner said it was based on a review of what other counties paid for similar positions and a desire to set it high enough to be competitive when hiring someone who can be the “point person for economic development.”

“It’s really a private sector position we’re putting in county government,” he said.

Welsh chimed in on the subject, saying, “We want someone who swings for the fences.”

Impact on EDGE

Legislator Barbara Calandra, D-12, Rome, asked if the county’s intent was to cut the 2018 basic contract with EDGE as an offset to the new county salary.

Candido said he did not expect any reduction in the year ahead. He said 2018 is a time to weigh how the new county director and EDGE interact and interface and then determine if contract changes are in order.

“Now is not the time” to take money away from EDGE that impacts the staff, he said.

He later said EDGE, with its staff, is “the economic development arm of Oneida County.”

The agency has a staff of 14 and an operating budget of about $2.2 million. County money accounts for about 28 percent of EDGE’s budget, according to Candido. It is overseen by a 55-member board.

One agency

Calandra also questioned if the proposed position would create a redundancy between EDGE and the county’s director.

“How is it not (a) duplication of services,” she asked.

Discussion then followed that the county person would do work beyond what EDGE does for the county and not be in competition with the agency. It was noted that EDGE, as a private organization, has the ability do some things that the county is not permitted to do.

When established nearly 25 years ago, EDGE was envisioned as a one-stop shop for economic development activities and business assistance in Oneida and Herkimer counties.

Oneida County is paying Mohawk Valley EDGE $349,874 this year, including oversight of the county economic zone. The nonprofit organization’s prime objectives are to attract new investment and growth, as well as assist existing businesses, large and small, in the county with new opportunities.

From time to time the county pays EDGE an additional amount to perform tasks outside of the scope of the contract.

Several committee members said they came to the meeting “on the fence,” unsure how they would vote on the matter.

After asking a series of questions about the proposal, Legislator Keith Schiebel, R-1, Vernon, raised the possibility of tabling the matter so there would be an opportunity to hear from more of the legislators on this topic. He later backed off offering a tabling motion because the position, if approved, needs to be added to 2018 budget. The only Board of Legislators meeting before the budget is released by Picente on Oct. 5 is next week.

Committee members in favor of creating the director’s position and setting the salary were: Calandra; Mandryck; Schiebel; Welsh; Rose Ann Convertino, D-22, Utica; Jeffery Daniels Jr., R-18, Utica; Colin Idzi, R-2, Oriskany Falls; and Emil Paparella, R-23, Utica. The ninth member, Lori Washburn, D-21, Utica, was absent.

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