The Franklin County Board of Legislators is investigating the pros and cons of hiring a lobbyist to help the county secure federal funds for economic initiatives.
A representative from Murray, Montgomery and O'Donnell - a legislative advocacy firm based in Washington, D.C. - visited with lawmakers in Malone last week.
Kyriakos Pagonis told legislators his firm can develop relationships with insiders at federal agencies like the Department of Energy or the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Those partnerships, Pagonis says, can increase the likelihood that county grants will be approved.
James Feeley is manager of Franklin County. He says the board is looking to see if there is help available at the federal level to maintain vital services that may otherwise be lost to state funding costs.
He adds that a lobbyist could also help overcome regulatory and bureaucratic obstacles in Washington.
Pagonis met with lawmakers last week at the urging of Tim Burpoe, who represents Franklin County Legislative District 7.
Burpoe has taken some heat for suggesting that the county investigate hiring a legislative advocacy firm. On Monday, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise wrote in an editorial that the county already has a lobbyist in Washington.
"His name is Bill Owens," the editorial reads. "Hiring a private firm seems extraordinarily wrong-headed."
In response, Burpoe says Pagonis came to Malone - free-of-charge - to educate lawmakers on the lobbying process. Additionally, Burpoe contends that he never officially endorsed hiring a lobbyist.
Burpoe says a good legislator should seek more information on initiatives that could benefit the taxpayer.
"We haven't decided whether we're going to do it or not," he said. "But I'd like to get as much information as possible so my fellow legislators can make an informed decision."
James Feeley says a stronger voice in Washington could help the county when it comes to gaining radio frequencies from Canada to improve the Enhanced 911 system.
He adds that a lobbyist could also help gain waivers for programmatic expenses, like the 53-11 program that finances the capital acquisition of buses for public transportation.
"That involves 80 percent federal funding and a 20 percent county share," Feeley explained. "If we could persuade regulators that Franklin County - because of its socioeconomic situation - should have its portion waived, that would maintain a vital county service and drive down costs."
Feeley adds that projects like Patriot Hills at Saranac Lake could also benefit from a lobbying firm. But he notes that the county has made no decision and is merely investigating.
"This is just investigating a possibility," he said. "The idea is to look for opportunities that we currently are not pursuing. There's been no decision made other than to examine the types of credentials people would need to provide this sort of service for us and what it might cost if we choose to engage it."
Burpoe says it's worth learning the pros and cons of utilizing a lobbying firm.
"If we have to spend $40,000 on a lobbyist, but we generate $1 million in grants or funding, is it worth it?" he said. "Would it be worth it for $500,000? For $100,000? Those are the questions we should be asking and assessing whether or not we want to take that chance."
Burpoe says the county will entertain RFPs from legislative advocacy groups in order to ascertain how much it would cost to hire a lobbying firm.
He says he is aware the county is in tough shape fiscally, but he doesn't see the harm in learning more about a process he calls "mysterious."
"I never knew how this process works," he said. "You read about it, but you never know for sure. This guy came up from Virginia for free and explained it to us."
Burpoe says if the RFPs come back and show that the county can't afford to hire a lobbyist, he simply won't support it.