This week, local government leaders met in Saranac Lake to discuss the idea of forming a new city that would essentially unify the Adirondack Park’s largest community.
The village of Saranac Lake is currently divided between two counties, two congressional districts, three towns, and the village government.
As a consequence, it is nearly impossible to make good, forward-thinking decisions about the future.
The five thousand or so citizens who want to follow what politicians are saying and doing — or learn about services and programs available to them — have to monitor developments from Malone to Elizabethtown.
That’s a daunting task.
But at this week’s meeting, the “other” governments that gobble up parts of Saranac Lake made it clear that they have no intention of setting the village free.
Their reason, very simply, is money.
“It’s about the counties, the loss of sales tax revenues and the loss of assessed values,” North Elba towns upervisor Roby Politi said, as quoted in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.
“It’s also a loss of bed tax revenues. Some 700 rooms on the North Elba side would be lost in terms of bed tax revenue.”
No government wants to give up revenue. But one of the basic concepts in our democracy is that we don’t tax people without representing them.
People are citizens first, taxpayers second.
A big chunk of North Elba — the town Mr. Politi leads — actually resides in Saranac Lake. But not one of the town’s board members comes from this community.
There is a vestigial North Elba meeting house in Saranac Lake, but the town board never holds meetings here.
I am, in theory, one of Mr. Politi’s constituents, but have never thought of myself as a North Elban. My neighbors and I think of ourselves as Saranac Lakers, plain and simple.
On the other hand, it’s clear that Mr. Politi thinks of himself as a Lake Placid resident, one who has spent years working honorably to improve and benefit that community.
The dangers of this arrangement were laid bare a couple of years ago.
An official with North Country Community College raised the idea of moving the school’s main campus from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid.
The move would have devastated Saranac Lake’s economy and left a huge crater in the community’s cultural life.
Yet the North Elba town supervisor at the time — Lake Placidian Shirley Seney — cheerfully embraced the idea.
And why not? Her job, as everyone understood, was to represent and improve the community around Lake Placid.
But it’s not just North Elba that taxes Saranac Lake without defending its interests.
On the Essex County board of supervisors, there isn’t — and to my knowledge never has been — a Saranac Laker.
Even split in half, the village is one of the two or three largest population centers in the county, yet has no voice and no vote.
The economic decisions that shape our lives are made by elected officials from Minerva, Schroon, and Ticonderoga, with no Saranac Lakers at the table.
Over the years I’ve attended dozens (hundreds?) of meetings talking about how to revitalize Saranac Lake, grow its jobs, and bring back better retail opportunities.
Officials from Essex County played no significant role in these efforts. Their attentions, understandably, are directed elsewhere.
But they still want our tax dollars.
Saranac Lake village trustee Jeff Branch bravely tried to make the argument that this situation is unfair and unsustainable.
“Look at the geographic boundaries of this village,” he said. “Spend a day in my shoes, and you’ll understand how hard it is over here. This is about Saranac Lake; it’s not about the counties.”
Given the response from our neighbors this week, it’s obvious that the road to freeing and unifying Saranac Lake won’t be easy.
But the debate at least clarified that the motives for holding the village hostage are entirely financial.
Sadly, our neighbors want to continue milking dollars from a community that they don’t have much interest in representing or working to improve.