Economic growth committee begins work

Mary Perham

The outline of future economic development in the Bath area should be in place by the end of June.

Representatives from the town of Bath, villages of Bath and Savona, and Three Rivers Foundation met Thursday with consultants from Peter J. Smith and got down to brass tacks.

The first step will be developing specific goals and visions by looking at all four Interstate 86 exits in the town and meeting with small focus groups, according to Eve Holberg, a former resident of Bath and consultant for Peter J. Smith.

That will be followed by an area-wide public information meeting in early March, Holberg said.

Holberg said her study will eventually include the scope and kind of projects to be located near the interstate, as well as draw businesses into the villages. Available utilities, infrastructure and the environment also will be included in the extensive study, she said.

The report also will look at what kinds of businesses and industries would thrive in the region, and provide information on labor force growth, according to Holberg.

“We will bring recommendations, offer alternatives and an action plan,” she said.

The final plan will be presented to the public in June, Holberg said.

The idea of a joint economic development committee composed of elected officials from the three municipalities, along with local experts was first raised about two years ago.

The villages and town each agreed to pay $5,184 for the Peter J. Smith study, with the  Steuben County Industrial Development Agency also paying $5,000. An anonymous donation of $4,500 made up the remainder of the $25,000 consultant’s fee.

The committee had hoped to receive state funding for the study, but was denied in the first round of grants announced a couple weeks ago.

Two more rounds of grants are expected later this year, although awards will wait until after the state passes its 2012-13 budget, Three Rivers Foundation President Jack Benjamin said.

Things have changed in the area in recent years, notably in the village and town of Bath, which once had a strong retail, agricultural, industrial and professional/governmental base, committee members said.

Municipal officials said highways have improved and tourism has become an important element in the area. However, as the county seat, Bath also has a lower tax base due to tax-exempt structures, has a high welfare population, and is affected by changes at the Bath VA and the county jail, the committee said.

In other action, Committee Chairman John Stranges said it is likely he will step down from the committee since he is not running for village office again in March. Stranges asked the committee for their recommendations and added he is hopeful the village of Bath will continue its involvement.