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Officials learn that IDA’s aid to commercial farming has broken rules

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The commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets was at Flower Memorial Library Wednesday afternoon to promote his boss’s budget, which was passed on time for the third year in a row.

But the scripted session, which featured north country native Darrel J. Aubertine reading about the main features of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget from a binder and talking at length about how central agriculture is to the upstate economy, featured a surprise ending.

Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency CEO Donald C. Alexander, who was in the audience, revealed that his agency had been operating in violation of its founding legislation by working with commercial agriculture.

Referring to Jay M. Matteson, the JCIDA’s Agricultural Coordinator, Mr. Alexander said, “Right now, I must confess, I’m going to continue our work with agriculture but I’m going to point out that it puts Jay and the rest of our staff at risk by doing so.”

Mr. Aubertine said he had not been aware of the issue.

“I wasn’t aware of it, either,” Mr. Alexander said.

Mr. Aubertine said that excluding commercial agriculture from the core mission of IDAs “flies in the face” of what the governor is trying to do by promoting the state’s agricultural resources.

“That’s certainly a missing link,” Mr. Aubertine said.

Mr. Alexander said getting that part of the IDA legislation changed would be key to moving development forward in the region.

Mr. Aubertine said the governor’s budget would benefit the state by cutting taxes and creating growth incentives.

Before Mr. Alexander’s revelation, Mr. Aubertine had been fielding questions from the audience about who would cover the costs associated with the provisions in the NY SAFE Act governing mental health, the need for support for organic farmers and how school boards can best petition representatives throughout the state to provide better aid for faltering districts.

Mr. Aubertine pledged to look into the issues.

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