Fulton County board approves $10.4M in federal projects; Money for Parkhurst, sewer, Sacandaga museum

JOHNSTOWN – The Fulton County Board of Supervisors Monday voted 16-1 to approve the county’s “Destination: Fulton County” strategic plan for how to spend $10.4 million from the pandemic economic stimulus funding from the federal government.

Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead gave a presentation to the board explaining the strategic plan, which was worked on by Fulton County Planning Director Scott Henze as well as the Board’s economic development, finance and capital projects committees. Stead said $5.2 million of the federal money is already in the county’s bank account, and the rest of it will be disbursed in 2022.

“This plan is really putting together three major infrastructure components to improve tourism and the hospitality industry, as well as retail businesses, and we expect it to make a very substantial change in the future, moving a larger portion of the county’s economic base towards tourism and hospitality,” Stead said.

Stead said Fulton County will spend the money on these three projects:

• Route 30/30A Corridor Sewer Project — $8.7 million

The county will spend $650,000 for the Phase 1 engineering, design and bidding process for a project to design and construct a new wastewater collection system extending from Village of Mayfield to the Gloversville Johnstown Wastewater Treatment Plant. The construction of a 7-mile sewer line to run from the plant in Johnstown up Route 30A to Mayfield is expected to cost the remaining $8 million in the project.

• “Field of Dreams” Tourism Destination Grant — $1 million

A reimbursement contract to fund construction of “Legends Field”, a premier Little League tournament baseball stadium as a northeast regional tourism destination. The grant would be paid to the Parkhurst Field Foundation in 2022.

• Great Sacandaga Lake History Museum — $1.2 million

Money would go towards construction of a new state-of-the-art museum and recreational facility to showcase the amazing history of the modern engineering marvel brought to life in the feature documentary “Harnessing Nature: Building the Great Sacandaga.” The money would be broken down with $600,000 allocated for property acquisition, engineering and design and $600,000 towards the construction of the museum.

The money for the projects comes from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in March. The plan has provided billions of dollars to New York state and tens of millions of dollars in aid to local governments in Fulton County and throughout the Capital Region.

The spending, however, has not received unanimous bipartisan support. U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, voted against the bill, despite the many tens of millions of dollars it provided the local governments in her district.

Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor Greg Young, a Democrat, on Monday was the only supervisor to vote against the county’s strategic plan for how to spend the money. He said he voted against it because he doesn’t think enough details have been explained about how the Great Sacandaga Lake History Museum will be funded.

“The only part of the plan I was not ready to endorse, when presented the plan today, was the Sacandaga museum,” Young said, explaining his vote. “I’m concerned about the financials, both the high startup costs of site acquisition, building and site design and construction, and the development of exhibits. Likewise, I don’t see a plan for operating expenses.”

Three supervisors were absent from Monday’s meeting: finance committee chairman Perth Supervisor Greg Fagan, Gloversville 4th Ward Supervisor Charlie Potter, and Statford Supervisor Heather VanDenburgh.

Stead said Fulton County officials essentially view the federal funding as a likely one-time “windfall” allocation of aid that should be spent on projects that will yield long term results. He said Fulton County did much better during the worst parts of the coronavirus pandemic than some upstate New York counties that were more economically dependent on activities that were shut down by the state, such as college towns like Ithaca in Tompkins County where the loss of in-person learning severely curtailed revenues.

“Fulton County is very conservative in its financial approach, so the county has looked at all of the financial indicators that we have, and our revenues have been pretty good compared to other counties,” Stead said. “Our reserves are stable. We were very fastidious in 2019 and 2020. We did not go out and spend on a lot of additional programs. So, I think the country feels comfortable that moving forward this is something that can be afforded and it’s clearly a windfall. We would not want to go out and use it for recurring costs, we want to use it for one-time costs. I’ve heard of other counties spending [the federal aid] for new programs, health and human services type programs, but those would have additional costs in following years.

Henze said the $8.7 million to connect a sewer line from the Gloversville Johnstown Wastewater Treatment Plant to Mayfield is less than half of the estimated $30 million project to connect water and sewer lines all the way to Northville, a project the Board of Supervisors voted to endorse in April.

Henze said the money will be used for the sewer line and for converting the existing sewage treatment plan in Mayfield into a pump station to service the connection to Johnstown. He said connecting the utility line from Johnstown makes more sense than spending $6 million on a new sewer plant for Mayfield, which would only maintain the sewer service radius available to the village now, and not expand it to properties on Route 30A, which will be accomplished by the county’s project.

Henze said he’s hopeful building the sewer line to Mayfield will help the county get additional funding, possibly from the infrastructure bills being debated in congress now, to eventually finish the job with an additional sewer extension to Northville.

“The really beneficial part of this project is really consolidating two existing wastewater infrastructure plants [in Mayfield and Northville], both of which are due to need significant investment and repair,” he said. “Our thought is, rather than Mayfield investing $5 million to $6 million, in needed repairs to their existing plant, the village should instead join with the county for this regional system.”

David Karpinski, the executive director of the Parkhurst Field Foundation, attended Monday’s supervisors meeting. He said the $1 million investment from the county is a major step forward for his organization’s estimated $2.3 million capital campaign to build a “Field of Dreams” baseball park at the Parkhurst Field little league park, creating a nationally recognized, lighted little league park with ultimately five regulation fields, one of them a premier field set up with the same 1906 home plate location of the former A.J&G Park that major league baseball legends Honus Wagner, Cy Young and Moonlight Doc Graham played on.

“We are extremely grateful to the Board of Supervisors and Jon Stead who really spearheaded this project,” Karpinski said. “Youth sports in America is about a $7 billion industry. Our project would bring 16 little league teams per week, 13 kids per team, about 500 attendees per week between July 4 and Labor Day. This is truly an economic diamond for this area. It would be 1,800 families coming here from the Northeast corridor. And when you look at the [economic study commissioned by the Parkhurst Field Foundation] you see that about 70 percent of the families that come for the games will stay in hotels, so that’s 350 hotel nights, 85 percent eat at restaurants, 80 percent purchase gas — this field will just have this long-tail of economic activity generated by these baseball tournaments.”

Fulton County Historian Samantha Hall-Saladino, who also serves as the Fulton County Museum executive director, also attended the board meeting Monday. She said she was a part of discussions about creating a Great Sacandaga Lake History Museum in 2019, but the funding wasn’t available to start the project until now.

“Obviously the pandemic happened, so nothing really happened last year,” she said. “I’m not sure what my role would be in it, but I have talked to Jon [Stead] about the process you have to go through to get a museum chartered by the [State Education Department/Board of Regents] and creating a nonprofit, and all of that. Right now I see myself as sort of a consultant, if they have any questions about the process.”

By Paul Wager