posted on August 04, 2011 13:58
Several local leaders attended State Senator Michael Ranzenhofer's small business roundtable at GCC this morning – and what was supposed to be a discussion on job creation quickly turned into an exercise in questioning Albany.
Jim Fulmer of LeRoy got the ball rolling. Right off the bat, the Bank of Castile CEO asked what the state's thinking was on continuing to allow small rural school districts statewide. He used Genesee County as an example, citing its 60,000 population and nine total school districts.
"I think we want to protect schoolteachers and local school buildings...but to run nine school 'businesses' in a county of this size?" asked Fulmer. "And that goes on across the state."
Fulmer suggested that the state's property tax structure could be greatly improved by consolidating most rural county-wide district offices, much as a large city would do with many schools but one system office.
"You can't possibly have nine superintendents, nine directors of curriculum, nine bus garages...at some point somebody will take absolute hold of this and deal with it," said Fulmer.
"But," he added, "that can't happen at the local level."
Ranzenhofer echoed Fulmer's sentiment, but he said these things that seem sensible, just take time to work through legislatively. "New York State is like a big ship, and it doesn't turn fast like a speedboat," the Senator said. "It takes a lot of time to turn the state around on issues like these."
Jeff Boshart of Boshart Enterprises spoke next, and he criticized the state for its inconsistent funding of local Chambers of Commerce and tourism agencies. Boshart is a member of Genesee County's Chamber of Commerce.
"This year the Chamber received matching 'tourism promotion funds' from New York State. Last year they didn't," said Boshart. "The effect on tourism...and the ability to bring monies into this county has been exceptional this year. A lot of it is because of we've had the matching funds." Boshart questioned whether funding would be a sure thing in the future.
Senator Ranzenhofer says it's not that tourism funding was cut out last year; it was simply spent elsewhere. "The Senate a year ago, two years ago, was really not pro-business," he said. "But with the change in the Senate, priorities changed (this year)...but I would never say it's a guarantee. That's the nature of government."
The final person to speak was Jim McCullough, the vice-president and general manager of Ryan Plumbing, Heating & Fire Protection of Rochester. McCullough was attending as president of the LeRoy Business Council, and he brought the Village of LeRoy's recent pool debate with him.
"Our local government is hiding behind the tax cap, and they're cutting our services. And important parts of our community are being taken away from us, which would invite younger families to move in," said McCullough. He asked for the Senator's opinion on applying for taxpayer-funded state grants (such as Community Renewal), versus the state removing restrictions and allowing communities to self-support.
"I run a business...and at the end of the year there's a profit-and-loss sheet, and if that doesn't balance out then you have to make changes," said McCullough.
Again, Ranzenhofer alluded to the priorities of the Senate. He explained that in any given year, a convened legislature may choose to concentrate funding on one area or another – like two years ago, when former Governor David Paterson proposed a 10% increase in welfare funding.
"I'm one of the only Senators who actually works for a living, and my business is also in a village. I see how important it is for a community to have an attractive village," Ranzenhofer said. "It's something I'm supportive of, within the framework of an overall budget of not increasing taxes or spending."
Today's meeting was designed for Ranzenhofer to hear concerns, make notes and return to session this fall with new ideas or legislation to improve the state's business environment.