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Lewis legislators earmark money for radio system, economic development

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators plan to earmark $1.3 million in wind farm funding for an emergency radio system upgrade and economic development projects.

“I feel it’s important to start saving,” Legislator Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden, said at Tuesday’s budget work session.

All nine legislators present signed off on moving $600,000 this year and another $600,000 in 2013 into the emergency radio system capital fund, plus putting $100,000 into an economic development reserve fund in 2013. Legislator Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners, was absent.

The moves still must be adopted formally by lawmakers at their Dec. 4 meeting.

Lewis County has annually received about $2.4 million from the Maple Ridge Wind Farm, but 2013 funding is expected to drop to $2.05 million because of the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan’s structure. It typically uses about $600,000 to cover general operations, with the rest either allocated to specific projects or used to bolster fund balance.

County officials, with assistance from the Wladis Law Firm and C&S Companies, earlier this year applied for funding through the state Office of Homeland Security to help pay for a radio system upgrade estimated at $6.4 million to $11.6 million.

However, that money has yet to be awarded, and Superstorm Sandy has left questions about how much will be available, County Manager David H. Pendergast said.

It also appears that the county, to receive state grant funding, may have to invest in an interoperable system that would allow for direct hand-held communication with officials elsewhere in the state, which would bump the cost estimate up into the $18 million range, he said.

Mr. King said it may end up cheaper for the county to fund a new system completely than to use state funding to help put together a more expensive one.

Regardless, it would make sense to start setting aside wind money toward the radio project while wind farm payments remain relatively high, he said.

“We’re building a radio system one way or the other,” Mr. King said.

He initially suggested setting aside $800,000 for each of the two years, but other lawmakers were reticent to commit that much right away.

As for economic development, county and Lewis County Industrial Development Agency officials have in recent months held some discussions on consolidating economic development efforts, possibly under the auspices of the IDA. No such changes are factored into the 2013 proposed budget as talks are still preliminary, but the IDA did send lawmakers a letter requesting that some funding be set aside for projects.

Mr. King suggested the money be put into a specific reserve fund so that proposed expenditures, if any, would require legislative approval.

At Tuesday’s session, legislators also decided to restrict trail coordinator Robert C. Diehl from driving his county vehicle home, adjust proposed salaries for five non-union workers for a net increase of $6,507 and raise the amount budgeted for intergovernmental transfer funding to the hospital from $1.9 million to $2.8 million to better reflect current projections. Fund balance use would be increased to cover the latter two budget alterations.

Transfer funding, intended to reimburse health care facilities partially for losses incurred on Medicaid, uninsured and charity care patients, is paid at unspecified times by the federal government, with the feds covering half and the county required to cover the other half.

The tentative budget includes a 6.1 percent hike in the tax levy and a 2.6 percent increase in the true-value tax rate.

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