News from the New York State
Legislative Commission on Rural Resources

Senator George H. Winner, Jr., Chairman
Assemblyman David Koon, Vice Chairman

Contact: Ronald C. Brach at (518) 455-2544
For Release: Wednesday, February 22, 2006

2006 Legislative Agenda For Rural New York Announced

Albany, N.Y., February 22 - The New York State Legislative Commission on Rural Resources, chaired by state Senator George H. Winner, Jr. (R-C, Elmira) and Assemblyman David Koon (D-I, Perinton) recently introduced a package of legislative proposals to begin to address some of the key short- and long-term challenges facing rural communities across New York State.

Noting that only approximately 30 of the state's 212 state legislators represent what can largely be considered rural regions, the Rural Resources Commission strives to create a greater focus on rural New York within the state Legislature.

"We need to build a stronger commitment to a 'Rural New York Agenda' within this Legislature," said Winner, beginning his second legislative session as chairman of the joint, bipartisan Legislative Commission on the Development of Rural Resources. "We're an institution of predominantly big city, urban interests. There's a real risk that the short- and long-term challenges facing rural, upstate New York get left behind. We can't let that happen."

"Many people still don't know that agriculture is the number one industry in New York State. The opportunities that our rural areas provide for agri-tourism, tourism in general and a great quality of life are immeasurable. We need to protect all our rural assets and remember how diverse our state really is," said David Koon, Vice Chair of the Commission.

Rural Resources Commission members recently introduced a package of legislation focusing on a series of economic and cultural concerns that many rural communities statewide struggle to address, including the recruitment and retention of volunteer fire fighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and other emergency services personnel; high unemployment and limited economic opportunities; a lack of services for an ever-growing population of senior citizens; and planning and land-use decisions which threaten some of the traditional foundations of rural New York's culture and economy, especially agriculture.

The work of the Rural Resources Commission remains devoted to building and growing a Rural New York Agenda that continually seeks to improve the quality and strength of our rural communities. For this reason, the Rural Resources Commission has joined with experts from Cornell University, a nationally recognized leader on rural affairs, to advance what's known as the Rural Visioning Project, which includes a series of listening sessions currently being conducted in rural communities statewide. These forums are designed to give local leaders, farmers, advocates, concerned citizens and others an opportunity to share their ideas and suggestions for public policies to address the needs of rural regions.

Following the conclusion of the listening sessions in late March, a comprehensive State of Rural New York Conference is being planned within the coming year to cement a more concrete working agenda for federal, state and local policymakers.

The legislation introduced by the Rural Resources Commission represents the beginning of that more comprehensive Rural New York Agenda.

The 2006 legislative package includes measure to:

  • create the "Rural New York Smart Sites¨ program (Senate Bill Number 2588/Assembly Bill Number 1578) within the Empire State Development Corporation to provide state assistance and focus a state-local partnership including local economic development agencies, public officials, public and private technology experts, Internet service providers and others to establish technology-based service facilities in rural communities. The envisioned Rural New York Smart Sites would offer trained workers, high speed bandwidth and state-of-the-art technological services to the global business community. Businesses that locate within the proposed smart sites could provide computer, data processing or telecommunications services such as web site development, database development, help desk support, software testing and computer programming.

  • A related and equally important bill (S.2747-B; A.5633-B) promotes access to advanced telecommunications services in under served rural areas through the creation of a state-level task force that would evaluate and guide state and local strategies for deployment of such infrastructure. The task force would include representatives from education, health care, business and industry and local government as well as related state agencies and associations.

"It's an economic development strategy to help bring the excitement and prosperity of a high tech future to rural New York," Winner said. "Rural communities must find a niche in the emergence of New York State's high-technology future. This is one way to begin to build the necessary infrastructure and work force to cement rural New York's place in that future." Assemblyman Koon, adds "we are especially concerned that high speed bandwidth capacity be extended to all parts of the state not currently served, which is vital to our future prosperity and competitiveness in the global economy."

  • establish a "Rural Aging Training Initiative within the state Office for the Aging to establish regional training projects to improve the quality of services provided to senior citizens living in rural areas. (S.2775/A.5359-A) proposes an education and training program for health and social services practitioners serving seniors in rural counties. The project would be directed by the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute (ICGI) with specific regional demonstration projects initially established in five rural regions: the Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, western New York, Hudson Valley and the North Country.

    It's estimated that nearly 14% of New York's 3.3 million rural residents are senior citizens. This senior population continues to grow, and presents serious challenges to localities needing to provide support services such as recreation, income assistance, transportation, wellness education, and long-term care.

  • enact local Emergency Services Volunteer Incentives such as personal income tax exemptions and health insurance benefits, to help localities attract and retain emergency services volunteers are among the options being considered for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers.

"The inability of our rural communities to attract and retain volunteers is the next property tax explosion waiting to go off in upstate New York," Winner warned. "We absolutely must get a handle on this challenge. The volunteer recruitment crisis threatens to seriously drain the already limited resources of rural communities throughout upstate New York. It has to be a priority issue."

According to the Firemen's Association of the State of New York, the number of volunteer firefighters statewide has declined from 140,000 in the early 1990s to fewer than 90,000 today. Volunteer emergency medical technicians (EMTs) experienced a decline from more than 50,000 to 35,000 during the same period. A state Association of Towns report issued last December highlighted the looming volunteer crisis, estimating that it would cost local taxpayers more than $7 billion annually to replace volunteers with paid fire and ambulance services.

  • restore funding for the Rural Education Advisory Committee, a statewide initiative that provided a valuable service to the over 400 small and rural school districts during the decade of the 1990s.

The committee conducts research studies and reports dealing with issues such as interagency collaboration, closing the gap in student performance and leadership and school district success. In addition mini-grants of $2000 or less are used to help support innovative programs in schools such as local history and environmental study projects, parent and grandparent involvement programs and initiatives that help staff and students better understand the use of technology in a global economy. In addition, the committee helped raise the level of awareness of the unique issues and concerns of rural schools; e.g., rural isolation and difficulties related to telecommunications capacity; deepened school leaders' understanding of their important role as community leaders, with a focus on local interagency collaboration; and provided examples of high performing rural school districts that could serve as models for other rural communities. Members of the committee are appointed by the Commissioner of Education, Governor, Senate and Assembly and serve without compensation. $100,000 in funding is being requested.

  • promote training opportunities for municipal planning and zoning officials. Participants at the rural listening sessions report that members of local planning boards, zoning boards of appeal and county planning boards need and welcome more training so that they can fulfill the duties and responsibilities given to municipalities in the state Constitution.

The challenges facing local planning and zoning officials today have enormous implications for rural communities and localities across New York State. Training in modern land use tools and strategies can help these officials better address land use decisions that have become increasingly complex and decisive to the future quality of our communities.

The Rural Resources Commission will continue to use its bipartisan structure to promote awareness of a Rural New York Agenda throughout state government. For copies of any of the bills please call the Commission at 518.455.2544 or visit the Senate's web site at or the Assembly's site.

Other members of the Commission on Rural Resources include: Senator Mary Lou Rath (R-C, Amherst), Senator James W. Wright (R-I, Watertown), Senator David J. Valesky (D-Oneida), Senator William T. Stachowski (D-Buffalo), Assemblyman Darrel J. Aubertine (D-Watertown), Assemblywoman Barbara S. Lifton (D-Ithaca), Assemblyman James Bacalles (R-C, Corning), and Assemblyman Daniel J. Burling (R-I-C), Castile).


The Legislative Commission on Rural Resources is a joint-bipartisan agency in the state legislature composed of five senators and five assembly members. The chairman is Senator George H. Winner, Jr. (R-C, Elmira), the vice chairman is Assemblyman David Koon (D-Perinton). Other Commission members are Senator Mary Lou Rath (R-C Amherst), Senator James W. Wright (R-I Watertown), Senator Neil D. Breslin (D-Albany), Senator William T. Stachowski (D-Buffalo), Assemblyman Darrel J. Aubertine (D-Watertown), Assemblywoman Barbara S. Lifton (D-Ithaca), Assemblyman James Bacalles (R-C, Corning), and Assemblyman Daniel J. Burling (R, I, C-Castile).

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