Is it time to free Saranac Lake? Absolutely.

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.

10 Responses to “Is it time to free Saranac Lake? Absolutely.”

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  1. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    What was it that is the root of all evil?

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  2. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    My first thought when reading your post Brian is that this situation is yet another reminder that we have far too many layers of government in this state. Much like the villages and towns across the state that seem resistant to consolidating, the situation in Saranac Lake seems to be more about losing tax revenues and perhaps turf issues then common sense. Our governments are so addicted to taxes it’s like trying to break a heroin addiction cold turkey.

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  3. Bret4207 says:

    A similar condition exists in parts of St Lawrence Co where some Towns are disenfranchised through the County Board of Legislature, My town has no direct representation. We have a person residing in another Town that “represents” us. So basically, we have a mercenary we pay to supposedly represent us. That’s intolerable in my mind. Of course the whole St Law Co Board of Legislators is as dysfunctional a group as you’ll find this side of the NY State Legislature anyway.

    Good luck Brian, you’ll need it.

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  4. Paul says:

    The whole area including Saranac Lake and Lake Placid should be consolidated into one “city”. One town, one village, one school, one government etc.

    Let future growth fill in the area in between.

    What is the problem. Stop fighting and just get along.

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  5. Pete Klein says:

    I don’t live up your way but I do understand the problem.
    I suppose the first thing needed to be done is to move all of Saranac Lake into one county.
    Some of the county lines up here are just plain weird. Same goes for township lines and where there are villages, village lines.
    I guess you could call all of this North Country gerrymandering.

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  6. Chris Knight says:

    Brian -
    Thanks for linking to our story. Just a couple points of clarification and one bit of additional information.

    First, Supervisor Politi called me today to tell me he was incorrect when he stated there are 700 rooms in the North Elba section of the village. He was told by Jim McKenna that the number is actually 185. 700 was the whole village.

    Second, the town of North Elba meets typically once a year in Saranac Lake. It’s meeting this week was at the town house on River Street. That’s still only one meeting a year, obviously.

    I also wanted to mention that there was an interesting statement made at the end of Wednesday’s meeting from Webster Parker, a member of the government restructuring committee, who basically got Politi to admit that the town has really no costs and provides no real services in the North Elba side of the village, which is subsidizing the rest of the town with the property taxes it pays to the town. Roby and I had a pretty animated discussion about this point after the meeting, which will be part of a follow up story I’m working now.

    Chris Knight

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  7. Brian Mann says:

    Thanks for the update, Chris.

    Brian, NCPR

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  8. outsider says:

    This situation is so frustrating! The goal of more efficiency is so clearly met by moving towards a consolidation of Saranac Lake governments, yet there seems to be no end to the obstacles flung up to grind this movement to a halt. Will we ever have the energy to overcome the inertia of established interests?!

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  9. Mark, Saranac Lake says:

    As far as North Elba and St. Armand are concerned, it’s free money… income without any real expense – why would they want to give that up? Politicians always talk about making government more efficient – it would be interesting to hear what each of those town board members would say when asked about government efficiency and yet they continue to support the current scenario.

    By the time Saranac Lake sees any results of the bed tax money collected it is very watered down, mixed in with the rest of Essex County tourism spending. It would make sense if the bed tax money collected in Saranac Lake went directly to the SL Chamber of Commerce for tourism marketing of Saranac Lake.

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  10. T.L.Barber says:

    Shame on Essex County and Lake Placid officials for their greed, while a beautiful community sits within and near, with the same natural beauty and the same kind of hard-working people suffer – what’s this life all about if it isn’t sticking up for each other whatever the cause – short life ahead folks – live it wisely!! Go Saranac Lake!!!

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