BETHLEHEM — State Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy and Bethlehem Town Supervisor David VanLuven offered some updates about infrastructure, politics and business at the town, county and state levels during a Jan. 16 meeting at Bethlehem Town Hall.
With a few dozen residents and local business owners attending, the meeting, promoted as “Coffee and Conversation with Your Legislators,” was coordinated by the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce and hosted by its president, Maureen McGuinness.
Fahy (D-109) said 2020 has been a “somber start” as the state grapples with a budget deficit of around $6 billion but this would continue to be addressed within the next few weeks.
She also said the year began with mixed public reactions about the state’s new bail reform law — which eliminates pretrial detention and cash bail as an option in around 90 percent of arrests, including most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. This law went into effect on Jan. 1.
“Right now, that’s taking up a lot of oxygen in the room and I would like to … say that it is something I voted for and supported,” Fahy said. “However, I also said we do need to look at some technical changes or correcting legislation on that. … That said, I do think it’s a very historic legislation because we’re upending decades of practice in this state.”
Fahy also brought up how Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a small business tax cut during his Jan. 8 State of the State address although it will need approval from the state Legislature.
It seeks to lower the rate from 6.5 percent to 4 percent for businesses with less than $390,000 in annual income and fewer than 100 employees.
Fahy said she is seeking funding and hoping the state Department of Transportation would conduct a comprehensive and engineering feasibility study to look at Interstate-87 “to reimagine parts of that in the downtown corridor in Albany.”
She hopes this would help try and reclaim parts of that Hudson River waterfront as well as boost the local economy with more space for housing, retail and recreation there.
“I think that will help the entire region and the more you strengthen the core, the more you help the entire region,” Fahy concluded.
McCoy said upon originally starting out as Albany County Executive, “I’ve learned not to go into a town or village and say we’re going to do this. [Instead] we do it in a partnership and the Rail Trail sat there idly for a long time; people had great ideas about it and we got it done little by little. Now, we have this beautiful Rail Trail that we’ve invested a lot of money from the county, maintained and kept adding to it. So why do I bring it up? It brought 200,000 people walking in last year.”
McCoy added that the Rail Trail has helped Bethlehem’s economy by benefiting small businesses, as well as being an ideal location for outdoor events and recreation.
Gesturing to the attending local business owners in the room, he said, “You’re the backbone of our community and you’re the foundation that we’ve been built off of before the internet and online shopping came along.”
He added that people need to recognize that running a business is hard work as owners have to care for their facades, pay their workers and compete with online shopping. He brought up that businesses also give children their first exposure into the business world which could better inform their decisions for their careers and futures.
VanLuven echoed McCoy’s speech about partnerships with the example of the state Office of Homes and Community Renewal providing funding for Bethlehem’s Microenterprise Grant program. This provides grants, between $5,000 to $35,000 each, to eligible small businesses emerging in or looking to relocate to Bethlehem, and helps owners buy inventory, equipment and more.
“Since 2014, we’ve received $600,000 and assisted 23 businesses; 10 of those businesses are new,” VanLuven said. “Through this project, 10 businesses have filled formerly vacant spaces in town that I think is a very positive thing.”
VanLuven brought up that not many residents may be aware that the town has an industrial sector, which will rise with the potential upcoming Port of Albany’s expansion project. This is a proposed 1.13 million-square foot, two-story industrial facility on 80 acres off River Road in Bethlehem. If approved, it would create 1,670 new jobs, impact the county’s economy and contribute to the state’s offshore wind initiative.
Looking ahead, he said the town continues to support its businesses and update infrastructure like by improving communications with the help of the Chamber of Commerce and the Albany-based Baker Public Relations firm. They would craft a strategic communications plan to benefit the town, residents and business owners in the next three months for upcoming roadway construction projects, especially the Glenmont roundabout project — this will replace the current four-way intersection where Feura Bush Road, Glenmont Road and Route 9W meet with a roundabout.
He related all his points to his overarching theme, saying, “If you look at any community anywhere, if you have a vibrant community, at its heart is a thriving commercial sector. The first sign to me of a community that’s going down is a dead business area.”