The Chautauqua County Legislature's Public Facilities Committee did the right thing Monday in tabling discussion of a roughly $32,000-a-year rent increase for Cornell Cooperative Extension in the Frank W. Bratt Agriculture Center, 3542 Turner Road, Jamestown.
County officials had proposed increasing the agency's rent from about $2.92 per square foot to $8.50 a square foot, a move that would take the yearly cost for Cornell Cooperative Extension from $16,680 a year to $46,603 a year. The agency's last lease with the county ended in April 2013. While Cornell Cooperative Extension officials surely knew lease negotiations would be upcoming, the proposed increase was not in line with past increases.
The amount isn't the only problem. While a small rent increase was likely in the agency's 2014 budget, Cornell Cooperative Extension officials couldn't have forecast such a large increase when they were developing their 2014 budget. Non-profits operate on a razor-thin margin each year and can't just reopen their budgets when hit with a large expense. Their only option is to lay off staff, cut programs or ask one of their partners in the foundation community for a grant - which is money that won't find its way to another worthy agency or project.
The real problem here is the county's lack of a replacement tenant after the U.S. Agriculture Department moved from the Bratt Center into the former Tops store on Fluvanna Avenue, Jamestown. David Himelein, R-Westfield, is doing the right thing by not wanting county taxpayers to eat the cost of a partially empty building, but asking a nonprofit agency for an unbudgeted $32,000 rent increase is the wrong way to protect county taxpayers.
Legislators should ask for a smaller increase this year or keep the rent the same, fill the building and then adjust the rents accordingly - and be sure to give Cornell Cooperative Extension time to include the increase in its 2015 budget.