By Paul Post
Wilton, Moreau and Milton are among dozens of upstate communities newly eligible for rural funding under a Senate version of the 2012 Farm Bill.
Money, if approved, would provide grants and loans for numerous projects, from water system upgrades to new fire stations and business park development.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is calling on upstate members of Congress to include such provisions in the House version of the Farm Bill, before President Barack Obama signs it into law.
"Our state has the third largest rural population in the U.S," Schumer said during a Wednesday conference call.
However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees rural programs, adopted rules changes two years ago that left many communities ineligible for financing.
At present, funding for water and wastewater projects is limited to rural towns and villages with fewer than 10,000 people. For Community Facilities grants and loans, for things such as fire stations, public safety and medical clinics, the threshold is 20,000 people.
"The definition of rural was very narrow," Schumer said. "It excluded large parts of states like ours. The Senate bill fixes this."
Under the proposed change, any municipality with less than 50,000 people not adjacent to a city with a population greater than 50,000 people could apply for funding.
Also, the USDA will have the flexibility to determine if towns qualify as rural.
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, a House Agriculture Committee member, introduced a Farm Bill amendment Wednesday that would make Saratoga Springs eligible for Community Facilities money by increasing the population threshold from 20,000 to 30,000 people. The Spa City's population is 25,000.