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County hires lobbyist for $60K to fight for money from Albany

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 March 2015 at 12:00 am

ALBION – Orleans County legislators voted today to hire lobbyist for $60,000 a year to advocate for county interests in the state capitol.

The decision to hire an outside public affairs firm was a first for the county, which wants to be more aggressive in pursuing grant funding and state resources.

“For quite some time, the Legislature has been concerned that the county’s legislative and budgetary priorities have often been overlooked in Albany,” said Legislature Chairman David Callard. “This has been particularly true as it relates to getting our priorities funded through the Regional Economic Development Council process.”

The county has retained Park Strategies, LCC, an Albany-based lobbying firm founded and chaired by Al D’Amato, the former U.S. senator who represented New York.

Orleans wants to push for more state funding for roads, bridges and infrastructure. Park Associates is well connected to leading state legislators and policy makers in Albany, said Chuck Nesbitt, the county’s chief administrative officer.

The firm, he said, will push for infrastructure funds, Broadband funding, a grant for additional upgrades to the county emergency radio system to make it interoperable with neighboring counties, and other projects.

The county is a member of the New York State Association of Counties, but that group advocates for the overall good of all counties. NYSAC doesn’t push for projects and specific needs for member counties, Nesbitt said.

The county also is represented by State Assemblyman Steve Hawley and State Sen. Sen. Robert Ortt, whose districts include more than Orleans.

Nesbitt said the county has tried to advocate on its own behalf in recent years, and hasn’t secured the full grant amounts and other state assistance it has requested.

“We felt it was time to bring in some professional support,” Nesbitt said.

Orleans County has fared poorly per capita in the Regional Council awards. While nearby counties typically land several grants in excess of $100,000, Orleans and its municipalities see little of those funds.

In 2013, Holley received the only grant in the county: $65,776 for a canal park improvement project. Last year the county was expecting a $160,000 state grant for projects at the Marine Park. The final award was only $81,500.

“We need to align the needs of the county with available state programs and funding streams, and then make the case to both – the Regional Economic Development folks and decision-makers in Albany – that Orleans County deserves its fair share,” Nesbitt said.

The agreement with Park Strategies runs from March 26, 2015 to March 25, 2016. Nesbitt said county officials would evaluate the agreement in about a year to see if it was fruitful for the county.

“Working in concert with Park Strategies, I’m confident we will be well served, and more importantly, we will go a long way to ensuring that county residents get a return on the tax dollars they send to Albany every year.”