"Confused" Finger Lakes council seeks more clarity in round 2

Feb 23, 2012

The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council held its first meeting of 2012 Wednesday. It was the council's first public session since disappointing funding results were announced last December.

Details of the second round of regional council funding are still fuzzy.

But if one thing was for sure, it was this: Council members were not admitting defeat.

"First, we were winners," insisted council co-chair and University of Rochester president Joel Seligman.

Seligman touted the $68.8 million in economic development funding the nine-county region took home last December. He also pointed to Cuomo's recent $26 million budget commitment to the first phase of Rochester's I-390 interchange project.

But he also admitted there was "confusion" during last year's process about how the funding would work.

Seligman told reporters that the regional council process needs more clarity.

"Our plans are to create jobs, jobs, jobs. Economic development was supposed to be the lead of it," said Seligman. "We executed that in the delivery of the plan. We'll continue to go forward."

"Supposed to" are the key words there.

Much of the funding doled out to the Finger Lakes is actually slated for housing projects - not the high tech, job creators the council had stressed.

The local project set to receive the most funding out of the regional council process is 60 units of senior housing. The $9.1 million investment is expected to create about 30 permanent jobs.

Seligman says the main point of confusion stemmed from a lack of clarity about the relationship between the $200 million set aside by the governor and the $800 million made available through existing funding streams.

Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy, who leads the councils for the state, was also at Wednesday's meeting.

He agrees that better communication will be needed for the second round of regional council funding.

"Sometimes communication is a two-way street," Duffy said. "We just need to make sure we clarify. Because some issues were raised by council members where [the state] could bring more clarity - and I agree."

Fuzzy math

The governor has set aside another $200 million for the regional councils in his 2012 executive budget.

Additional funding is still being determined, however.

Last year the much larger pot of roughly $800 million came from nine state agencies and 29 funding streams, according to Empire State Development CEO Ken Adams.

"This year, there'll be a new alignment of agencies and funding streams," said Adams. "It won't necessarily be the same dollar amount."

Adams added, "It could be less than a billion this year."