With a final presentation on citizen engagement and leadership, the 20/20 Implementation Committee, which has analyzed a number of elements of Bethlehem town government, wrapped up its work.
After presenting findings and recommendations to the Town Board over the past year ranging from commercial re-use of properties to potential unification of the town’s highway and public works departments, members of the committee have finished their main task of coming up with proposals to streamline town government.
Committee co-chairs Terri Egan (former Bethlehem supervisor) and George Leveille (Chairman of the Town’s Planning Board) were at the Town Board’s final meeting of the year on Wednesday, Dec. 28 to thank them for allowing and supporting this type of work.
“While we said this was our final, final report, George and I talked and to the extent that decisions are made as you move forward over the next couple of weeks, couple of months, and if there is an interest in convening this type of group again, we would certainly be open to having a conversation about process,” Egan told the board.
The committee’s work has served as a spark for conversations regarding elected and appointed seats in town government and better ways to ensure the town is maximizing its revenues and monitoring its money.
Supervisor Sam Messina said the committee’s work is an example of what sets Bethlehem apart.
“There’s nowhere that I look at the state level, county level or other town or city levels that has quite the wealth of people volunteering their time, their energies, to come up with such wonderful documentation, such strong and clear guidance for the town board to consider in the future,” said Messina.
Members of Bethlehem’s 20/20 Implementation Committee have laid out suggestions to the Town Board regarding how the town can foster economic development.
During a recent presentation, members of the 20/20 Economic Development Subcommittee gave their recommendations for establishing an economic development strategy, including the addition of staff to make their goals more achievable.
“The report is meant to serve as a playback for future economic development,” 20/20 and Industrial Development Agency member Joe Richardson told the board.
One significant suggestion was the addition of a half-time staff person who would be dedicated exclusively to the cultivation of economic development projects in the town.
“The new staff position would be helpful in representing Bethlehem in the regional collaboration that is taking place,” said Richardson, who argued that the town needs a “professional” at the table to promote Bethlehem.
The committee suggested that once resources are identified and as economic development growth occurs, the position should be increased to full time.
The recommendations highlight the point that the town is competing against more sophisticated business organizations in neighboring communities in Saratoga, Schenectady and Greene counties.
“It’s imperative, I think, from our perspective that the Town of Bethlehem has to take this under their wing and auspices, because the county of Albany has nothing to help us with this,” said 20/20 member Keith Bennett.
The problem, committee members say, is that as currently staffed, the town is at a distinct competitive disadvantage when it comes to bringing in new development in the region.
Another recommendation is for the town to leverage the resources of its Industrial Development Agency. That body has seen relatively little activity in the past few years, but has been a vital part of helping with financing and progress for the Vista Technology Campus in Slingerlands.
“This report lays the ground work for beginning to identify short-term initiatives, while seeking more detailed discussion on specific long-term projects,” said Richardson.
Short-term goals laid out in the recommendations include support for work at Vista, implementation of the New Scotland Road Hamlet Master Plan and a reconstitution of a Selkirk Yards Industrial District Focus Group to ensure the long-term viability of some of the town’s largest employers and taxpayers.
Board members were also reminded of how vital it is to market what the town has through tools such as website marketing.
Richardson spoke about the opportunities the town must explore to promote economic development events “by using electronic newsletters, and with other cost-effective communication tools.”
The recommendations within the 15-minute presentation drew no questions from the Town Board, which took no formal action to adopt any of the suggestions put forth by the 20/20 committee.