A work in progress

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In the three years of New York’s state government’s ambitious Consolidated Funding Applications (CFA) process, $18 million in state grants have been awarded to Ulster County projects. This week’s economy column will tell you where it went.

CFA is a system devised by the state administration of Andrew Cuomo to systematize priorities and make choices in the awarding of state grants to local projects. In three annual rounds in 2011, 2012 and 2013, the state government has announced more than two billion dollars of awards and grants statewide under CFA — a sum inflated to include funds to local recipients from state bonds issued for housing, energy, job credits and industrial development projects.

A new year is as good a time as any to take a look at what these not inconsiderable sums of taxpayer money have been spent on locally. But first a few words of caution. One must keep in mind that the CFA grants are just the tip of the iceberg of state capital spending. For 2014 New York State budgeted $9.4 billion for capital projects. In addition, public authorities budgeted $11.3 billion for capital spending. The two billion dollars spent on CFA over the past three years pales in comparison with the $20.8 billion in state capital spending scheduled for the present year.

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Consisting of Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Orange, Dutchess and Ulster counties, the mid-Hudson is one of ten state economic development regions into which the state is divided. In the past years the state has supported 353 CFA projects in the region. Andrew Cuomo has been quoted innumerable times as saying that local people know their own spending priorities better than the officials in Albany do, and he has encouraged local participation through a Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council (REDC), consisting of 24 of the usual regional suspects plus ten ex-officio public officials, including the seven county chief executive officers.

Chaired by lieutenant governor Bob Duffy, that full body meets four times a year on very short public notice. The REDC’s recommendations of priority projects, the state says, presently constitute 15 per cent of the score that decides who gets the money. That amount of local participation doesn’t impress. But the system is an improvement on previous methods of resource allocation, which depended mainly on the rolling out of pork by both the executive and legislative branches.

Business, local governments, non-profits profit

Of the recipients of the approximately $18.233 million in CFA money awarded to Ulster County projects over the past three years, $2.929 million went to businesses. Some $11.104 went to local governments. The remaining $4.2 million was awarded to a wide variety of non-profit entities.

The word “approximately” in the previous paragraph is used for three main reasons. First, some projects included components in more than one county, and judgment was required to estimate what portion should be allotted to Ulster County. Secondly, judgment was also required to determine category, say that of a non-profit organization whose sole function is to serve as a conduit for a consortium of private businesses. Finally, because not all projects will fulfill the contractual obligations under which they were awarded CFA money, not all projects will get their money.

In 2011 Ceres Technologies in Saugerties was the only Ulster County private business to receive CFA funding. This maker of gas and chemical delivery systems got $764,000 in state money to build capital equipment for the SUNY College of Nanoscience in Rensselaer.

2012 saw a variety of smaller CFA training and other grants for Fala Technologies, SP Industries, Wineracks, Stavo Industries, and Precision Pipeline (serving Ulster County from New Windsor). There was also a $500,000 grant to the Hudson-based Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation (HVADC), which focuses on the viability of agricultural businesses. Finally, the Ulster-based Solar Energy Consortium (TSEC), moving from a focus on solar energy to a wider range of energy and manufacturing projects, was awarded a million dollars.

This past December Ultra Seal, a specialty packaging company, was awarded $175,000 for a warehouse expansion in Plattekill. And the 2013 funding round awarded HVADC another $225,000 toward establishing a food distribution hub.

Infrastructure projects

In the past three years the CFA process has awarded $11.1 million to Ulster County local governmental entities. In all three years of the CFA process, this has been the largest category.

Wawarsing and New Paltz governmental units have received $600,000 each in state grants for the past three years for a variety of infrastructure projects, for a total of $3.6 million. The Village of New Paltz also got $45,600 for catch basins in 2011 and New Paltz’s town government $23,000 for a rail-trail bridge in 2013. And Ellenville got $24,000 to develop a village wastewater plan in 2013.

Ulster County government got $750,000 for residential rehabilitation the first year, and $1.5 million the second year and $439,000 the third for the conversion of the Sophie Finn School in Kingston to a community college satellite campus, for a three-year total of $2.689 million.

With county support, the Kingston city government was successful in 2013 in obtaining CFA grants through four different state programs in three agencies of $2.274 million for rail-trail and other transportation development (most of the amount was in the 2013 state budget). Kingston also got $30,000 this year for a wastewater engineering study. And in 2011 the city was awarded $350,000 through the CFA to support home ownership. Total for the city government in the past three years: $2.654 million.

Kingston and neighboring Town of Ulster were awarded $1.2 million in 2012 for construction of a Hudson River promenade in conjunction with the AVR housing project (which has been slow in arriving). Ulster township also was awarded $599,492 in CFA funds for Glenerie storm sewers in 2011.

Rosendale was a winner this past year, receiving $500,000 for a new municipal pool and $258,930 for its intermunicipal center in Tillson. Other recipients were Marbletown ($44,000 for a rail-trail park in 2012), and Saugerties ($66,350 for Cantine Field lights the same year).

Sharp, Rupco and Lace Factory

The final category of non-profit organizations is a mixed portfolio. SUNY New Paltz, which had sought nearly five million in state CFA funding in 2013 for its 3D printing initiative, was awarded a million dollars. Ulster Boces got $100,000 in training funds in 2012 and again in 2013.

In the housing area, Phoenicia-based Sharp got $75,000 for housing repairs in 2011. Kingston-based Rupco got $278,400 for the same purpose in 2011 and $150,000 for its Lace Factory artists’ housing project in 2013.

The Clearwater organization got $400,000 for its home port and education center in Kingston in 2011 and $497,303 for boat repairs in 2013. In other CFA grants in the environmental sector, Mohonk Preserve got $500,000 of state support to buy 534 acres in 2012 and then $42,000 in 2013 for trailhead development. The Palisades Parks Conservancy got $152,348 in CFA money for carriage-road improvements at Minnewaska State Park in 2012, and Scenic Hudson $66,350 for improvements at Esopus Meadows. In 2013 Open Space Institute was awarded $200,000 for improvements to the Wallkill Valley rail-trail.

The Bardavon organization was awarded a $150,000 grant in 2012 for a four-season festival. In the recent 2013 grant round, The Phoenicia Festival of the Voice received $90,000 for its four-day summer event. The same year the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce got $49,500 for marketing the Route 28 scenic byway, the same amount that the Catskill Center received toward its work on the Catskills interpretive center in Mount Tremper.

Two planning projects have been funded. Pace Law School in Westchester was awarded $95,512 this past year for a sustainability project in four communities including Kingston. And the mid-Hudson REDS itself was successful in winning $195,000 for a strategic plan in 2012; the state declined to fund a follow-up priority CFA grant for a further study for REDS the next year, however.

Despite its faults, the CFA process provides a clear picture of who got what. And it even provides a rationale, albeit a half-hearted one, for why they got it. That’s an improvement over the murky and corrupt process for which the state government was previously justly famous.

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