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The Tug Hill Plateau by satellite [credit: Tug Hill Commission]
The Tug Hill Plateau by satellite [credit: Tug Hill Commission]

Final push on to save Tug Hill Commission

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Leaders across Lewis, Jefferson, and Oneida counties are making a full court press to save the Tug Hill Commission. The 38 year-old agency provides planning, development, and natural resource management assistance to the isolated towns and villages of the Tug Hill Plateau.

The State Senate has included $1.1 million for the Commission in its spending plan. That's a 10% budget cut, on par with what other agencies are dealing with. But the Assembly is so far following Governor Cuomo's recommendation to dissolve the Commission. That's left Tug Hill leaders fighting for the agency's survival. David Sommerstein reports.

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Responding to widespread calls to put government on a diet, Governor Cuomo has created a panel to review each agency, authority, and commission, with an eye toward reducing their number by 20%.  It’s called the Spending and Government Efficiency Commission, or SAGE. 

Yet before that vetting began, Cuomo zeroed out the Tug Hill Commission in his executive budget.  Tug Hill Plateau Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush got a moment with Cuomo recently at a legislative breakfast and asked why. 

My question was really why out of 200 commissions was the Tug Hill singled out?  I really did not get a good answer.  I didn’t get an answer.

Cuomo has yet to offer why the Tug Hill Commission was singled out.  A call to the Governor’s office wasn’t returned yesterday.

Blankenbush says it’s unfair for the Tug Hill Commission not to get a chance to make its case.

All they want to do is present that to the SAGE commission.  Give them an opportunity to stand on their own merit.

Across the Tug Hill Plateau, local leaders say they have no doubt the Tug Hill Commission would survive such scrutiny.  Linda Garrett directs the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust.  She says the Tug Hill Commission is a model of the kind of resource sharing and consolidation that Cuomo’s promoting.

I talked with one town supervisor the other day and she was saying, if I had to hire a grant writer for our town, it would be like 18,000 dollars and that’s not guaranteeing me any grants, whereas the Tug Hill Commission helps 47 - or whatever it is - villages and municipalities writing grants everyday.

Tug Hill towns are isolated places, especially in winter.  Some supervisors are literally one-man-bands.  Jan Bogdanowicz has been the town of Montague’s supervisor for almost 25 years.  Now also one of 8 Tug Hill commissioners, he says the Commission is irreplaceable in helping those isolated lawmakers make sound decisions.

Asking for the good, the bad, and the ugly, just the facts on whatever the issue that they want from a regional planning standpoint or community development standpoint.  I don’t think that you’re going to find a council or government that’s going to be able to do that.

The Tug Hill Commission has also been instrumental in protecting New York’s largest contiguous forest outside the Adirondack and Catskill Parks.  It had a hand in creating the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust 20 years ago.  Land Trust director Linda Garrett says the Tug Hill Plateau is unique because it’s mostly private land, part working forest, part secluded wilderness.

That right there makes it pretty special for a lot of wildlife and also economically a lot of people make their living either in forestry or farming and the region is very important for that.

Green groups like the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Nature’s Conservancy have signed on to letters urging for the Commission’s funding to be restored.

The State Senate’s budget does fund the Tug Hill Commission, at a 10% cut.  That’s the chamber where many North Country Republicans have sway in the majority, like Senator Joe Griffo.

We’re not against consolidation and looking at all the agencies in the state and the commissions and authorities, but they should be treated fairly, and I don’t think Tug Hill was given that consideration.

The Assembly followed Cuomo’s recommendation and cuts the Tug Hill Commission in its spending plan.  Assemblywoman Addie Russell is the lone North Country member of the Democratic majority.  Her spokesman, Mark Pacilio, says Russell is urging party leaders to reconsider and give the Tug Hill Commission a chance to justify its existence before the SAGE consolidation panel.

For North Country Public Radio, I’m David Sommerstein.

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