Regional Planning Board looks to discontinue loan fund

LAKE GEORGE — The new leadership of the Lake Champlain Lake George Regional Planning Board plans to discontinue one of the organization’s loan funds as an audit of the organization’s loan operations continues.

The Regional Planning Board re-organized during the summer amid heavy criticism over its operations and handling of a fund that made hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable loans. Its longtime executive director retired after several supervisors sought his ouster, and several other longtime leaders were removed from the board.

The actions came amid questions about loans to relatives of Regional Planning Board leaders and apparent improper handling of day-to-day business.

In the months since, the new chairman of the organization, Hampton Supervisor David O’Brien, new director Beth Gilles and new members have been working with the five counties (Warren, Washington, Essex, Clinton and Hamilton) whose supervisors sit on the board to tighten bylaws and procedures.

Among the changes being proposed is a discontinuance of one of the two business loan funds operated by the board’s regional development corporation. It is the smaller of the two loan funds the organization operates, with six open loans. O’Brien said it does not seem needed in light of the other loan funds in existence in the region.

O’Brien said the board is also working on a new formula for determining how counties fund the board. Counties had been paying arbitrary amounts in recent years, but formulas based on population or assessed value are being reviewed. Warren County had been paying $7,000 annually, but has been asked to pay $12,954 in 2019.

Glens Falls 2nd Ward Supervisor Peter McDevitt, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors Economic Growth & Development Committee, to which the Regional Planning Board reports, said the organization is making progress.

“In the past five months, there have been tremendous strides forward,” O’Brien said. “We know there is still a lot of work to be done.”

O’Brien said a state Comptroller’s Office audit of the loan funds is ongoing and auditors are “taking a lot of notes” but haven’t shared any preliminary findings. He said the results of the audit will be released when complete. The agency’s new leaders suspended its loan funds earlier this year amid a review of practices and pending loans.

The Regional Planning Board provides planning assistance to communities, assists communities with environmental projects and runs a revolving business loan fund. It came under scrutiny earlier this year when a number of questionable loans to politically connected people and their family members were unearthed, as well as figures that seemed to show a large amount of losses on the loans.

It was found that the board, which was supposed to have 30 members, had just 19, and had been operating in violation of its rules and quorum rules for an extended period of time.