Space and time often limit the ability of journalists to cover news stories in the depth they’d like to do.
The allocation of state grant money this week is an excellent example of just such a case.
The regional development councils have been trumpeted by state officials – Gov. Andrew Cuomo chief among them – as a way to take the allocation of development awards out of the hands of patronage kings and queens of Albany. The question now is whether the dominant counties in each district are engaging in the same kind of favoritism.
The state of New York posted the individual awards about 4:45 p.m. Wednesday after a day of webcast self-congratulation. Until then, the only figures released were totals for each of the 10 development regions that began operating last year.
Moreover, the awards – a mix of grants, bond funding and tax credits – were released in a single PDF document that made it nearly impossible, without specialized software, to convert the list into a spreadsheet, a great way to analyze trends in such data.
Two days later, we’ve been able to move the data into spreadsheets, and to think about some of the issues it raises.
Despite the hoopla, however, it’s important to note here that the bulk if the awards — at least as far as the region covered by The Daily Star goes — was not allocated to any specific project. Thus, about $39 million of $59.7 million allocated to the Mohawk Valley Regional Development council is not earmarked for any one project or county.
There are other caveats, too. As mentioned, not all of the money is cash grants. Some of it is bond financing that is supposed to be paid back, and a lot of it is in tax credits, which aren’t quite cash on the barrel head. A single line item — about $28 million — of the Mohawk money is bond capitalization.
In addition, some of the awards were allocated to multi-county initiatives.
The data from the Mohawk Valley region suggests that the money was doled out in a more or less equitable manner in relation to population, while the Southern Tier region, which was dominated by Broome County representatives, saw $13 million of the region’s $91.1 million going to that county. When one considers that about $60 million of the Southern Tier funding was unallocated, the disparity appears to grow. In other words, among the funding for specific counties or projects, Broome received about 42 percent.
Otsego and Schoharie counties are in the Mohawk Valley region, which includes Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida counties. Delaware and Chenango counties are in the Southern Tier Region, which includes Broome, Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins counties.
It’s hard to fix dollar amounts for how much each county will take home for the aforementioned reasons, But it’s fairly safe to say that Oneida, among the counties in Mohawk Valley Regional Development Council, took home the lion’s share — nearly $5.3 million awards dedicated to projects within the county. The total for the region was just shy of $60 million, but nearly $40 million of that wasn’t allocated to specific projects.
Otsego took home about $1.4 million, with more than $600,000 earmarked for a single project: downtown sidewalks in Cooperstown.
Oneida County is by far the most-populous of the six counties in the Mohawk Valley region, so it’s no surprise it received the most awards. It also dominated the council’s board, with 10 members based there, included both co-chairs. Otsego County was the second-most-represented county, with four members wholly or partially based in the county.
Schoharie, the least-populous county in the region had just one council member. It received about $1.1 million in awards.
In the Southern Tier Region, the disparity was stark. Delaware was awarded a bit less than $850,000. Chenango was awarded $280,000. Broome County received about $13 million, while Steuben County received about $5.2 million.
Delaware had three representatives on the 32-member board, while Chenango had two. Broome, on the other hand, had nine.
Broome has nearly 200,000 people. Delaware and Chenango each have about a quarter of that. Steuben, which has about 100,000 people, had two members on the region’s board.
It’s hard to make conclusions based on such data, and evidence that this process is any more efficient at distributing state aid is incomplete, at best, with so much funding still on the table. But it’s certainly fodder for discussion. To take a look at the full document, go to: regionalcouncils.ny.gov/assets/documents/2012REDCbooklet.pdf
RICHARD WHITBY is a staff writer for The Daily Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.