Hochul proposes $92.5M for ORDA in next state budget

Gov. Kathy Hochul presents her Fiscal Year 2024 Executive Budget proposal on Wednesday, Feb. 1 in the Red Room at the State Capitol. (Mike Groll/Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul)

Gov. Kathy Hochul wants to carve out $92.5 million for the state Olympic Regional Development Authority in the state’s 2023-24 fiscal year budget.

The funding for ORDA was announced Wednesday, Feb. 1 as part of the governor’s second-ever executive budget. The proposed $227 billion spending plan includes $1 billion for migrant resettlement services, $1 billion for mental health services and a $3.1 billion increase in school aid. In climate-related initiatives, she wants to set aside $60 million for a new “forever chemicals” cleanup initiative that would help local governments clean up contaminants like perfluoroalkyl substances — or PFAS — along with $400 million for the Environmental Protection Fund and $500 million for clean water infrastructure. She also wants to make changes to the state’s bail reform law, raise taxes on cigarettes, prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products and allow a tuition hike at state universities.

ORDA’s capital budget

When ORDA’s board of directors approved its 2023-24 budget this past December, the board projected a capital budget of $80 million for the 2024 fiscal year — but Hochul is proposing to give the authority $12.5 million more than expected. The state has invested more than half a billion dollars into ORDA capital improvements over the last several years as the authority improved its winter sports venues ahead of the FISU Winter World University Games in January. Though ORDA representatives and Hochul’s budget book state that the funding will largely be used for continued improvements at ORDA’s winter sports venues, it’s unclear exactly where or what the funding will be used for.

ORDA’s capital budget is separate from its operating budget. The hundreds of millions of dollars the state has invested into upgrades to ORDA’s winter sports venues over the past few years are part of ORDA’s capital budget, not the operational budget.

Darcy Norfolk, the director of communications for ORDA, said in December that the $80 million ORDA expected to get in new state funding would be invested in “infrastructural improvements throughout ORDA,” including upgrades to ski lifts, lodges, snowmaking, trails and summer operations. She didn’t specify any particular projects.

“These investments also support health and safety, technology and sustainability,” Norfolk said.

Norfolk didn’t immediately respond by press time with comments about updated or specific plans for the proposed 2024 state funding.

The governor’s budget book breaks out the proposed $92.5 million into three categories: $80 million for “a strategic upgrade and modernization plan to support continued improvements to Olympic and other ORDA-owned facilities,” $10 million for “critical” maintenance and energy efficiency upgrades and $2.5 million from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation budget as part of the New York Works initiative.

“Additional investments in these assets located in the North Country, Mid-Hudson, and Capital Region will continue to make New York state more competitive for winter recreation and travel, attracting large sporting events and international championships, and ultimately driving year-round business and economic sustainability to the surrounding areas,” Hochul’s budget book reads.

Hochul’s budget book is only a proposal; the state Legislature still needs to review and approve the budget. The budget deadline is April 1.

Operating budget

ORDA’s Board of Directors in December approved a $68.8 million operating budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year, an $8.8 million increase over the approved $60.2 million budget for 2022-23. ORDA is expecting more revenue from services, sales and rentals in 2023 — a more than $8 million increase over this year — while paying more for employee salaries, “supplies and materials” and “other operating expenditures.”

The authority anticipates $68.8 million in revenue for 2023-24, including $14.9 million in state and $500,000 in local municipal subsidies. North Elba’s park district decreased its annual payment to ORDA in this budget cycle, from $750,000 in previous years to $500,000 in 2023-24. The authority is planning to spend a total of $148.8 million in the next fiscal year including the $80 million in capital funding ORDA expected to receive from the state.

While the authority accounted for a $2.9 million deficit in the budget for 2021-2022, the 2023-24 budget shows $32,510 in excess of revenues. The 2022-2023 budget showed an even greater excess in revenues — $109,154. ORDA CEO Michael Pratt said at ORDA’s board of directors meeting in December 2021 that the authority had reduced its debt by more than $3.8 million.

ORDA has had some difficulties balancing its operating budget in the past. When ORDA was audited in 2014, the state Comptroller’s Office gave the authority a slap on the wrist for relying on loans and outside contributions from other state agencies to cover cash shortages. Between April 2010 and March 2013, ORDA’s losses totaled $4.2 million in cash; $45 million including depreciation, accounts receivable and post-employment benefits due to its employees.

ORDA also relied on a line of credit to cover its basic operating costs, including payroll, the audit found.

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