By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer
The Lake George Village and Town governments came together Monday night for a joint public information meeting on the village interim dissolution study.
Village Mayor Bob Blais and Town Supervisor Dennis Dickinson sat side by side at the front of the nearly full room.
Approximately 60 people attended.
By a show of hands at the meeting’s end, an overwhelming number of those present said they are Village residents, allowed to vote in the September 13 referendum. A handful were town residents.
Ben Syden and Kathleen Rooney of the Laberge Group gave results of the dissolution study they were hired to create.
They said the village and town are in good shape financially, with very little redundancy between the two governments.
“Right now you do a very good job of…division of labor,” Mr. Syden said. “Because it’s not duplicated in so many areas, the cost savings [of dissolution] are actually very small.”
He said later, “The village is in…probably the strongest fiscal condition of any town, of any village, that we’ve worked with in the last decade.”
The financial benefit to taxpayers would instead come from New York’s Citizens Empowerment Tax Credit (CETC) enacted by Governor Cuomo to encourage government consolidation.
The study said by law, at least 70% ($346,169) of the CETC must be used to reduce the Town tax levy. The other 30% ($148,358) can go for capital improvements or implementation costs.
The study estimates that prior to the tax credit, village taxpayers would see a 29.1% reduction in property taxes.
With 70% of the tax credit used, a 32.5% deduction, and with 100%, a 33.9% property tax reduction.
But the study says its most significant assumption “is that significant Village cash assets and sale of some of the Village property would be used to offset in part the long-term Village taxpayer liabilities….If no assets were applied, the estimated tax rate reductions would be 6.18%.
Mayor: On alternative, use parking meter $$
Near the end of Monday night’s joint town and village information meeting on the Sept. 13 vote on dissolving the village, Mayor Blais addressed the crowd.
Last week, the village Board of Trustees — proposing an alternative to dissolving the village — enacted a resolution to apply up to $3-million from a “Parking Meters” fund to reduce the tax rate by at least 35%.
The board would also “enter into a study of consolidation and annexation… to be completed prior to March 1, 2023.”
The mayor acknowledged that two “legitimate” questions were “number one, why didn’t you do that before? Number two, where is the money coming from?”
He said, “What you’ve heard tonight in the presentation, is you’ve got two very well run communities working together like no other community that they have ever studied…
“So then somebody might say, then what the hell are you doing sitting in this room, listening to all this for? So that’s why the village decided to come up with an alternative solution to the problem.”
He said two years ago when the village found it needed to build a $16-million sewage treatment plant, they did not want to put that burden on the village tax payers. “We have not raised taxes in the village of Lake George in 10 years, but believe me, that burden would have raised our taxes,” he said.
He said the village needed to figure out how to pay the debt service on a plant that, by completion, cost $24 million.
“We decided, because of the size of the treatment plant, it’s really up to the tourists…that swell our population in the town and the village in the summer…
“Why wouldn’t they be willing to share the cost of some of the services that we need to offer them?”
He said after studying places like Ocean City and Provincetown, they raised parking meter fees from $1 to $2. “Some, like Myrtle Beach, were at $5, some were at $7,” he added.
Mayor Blais said the village put aside only money collected from credit cards, to “see if that would be enough to cover the debt service of the treatment plant. In a little over two years, it amounted to $2.3-million. More money than enough to cover the entire debt service of the wastewater treatment plant.”
He said the plant was added to this year’s budget, “and we raised the budget 1.1%. Still 25 cents less than what people in the village paid 10 years ago.”
So now he said they will take the parking meter funds to defray the tax burden.
He said they expected $12.2-million in grants, but they received $17-million; “the Governor came up with $9.4-million to the village. All this was unexpected.”
He said this meant that the village did not have to use the $2.3-million parking earnings, “incidentally going up every single day this season as well.”
So they’ll “take some of that money and apply it to the village taxes next year.”
He said it’s in a resolution so it’s guaranteed. “There is nothing in this [dissolution] report guaranteed, except the village and the village board and the mayor will disappear.”
Mayor Blais added, “Somebody said, ‘Well, it was a rainy day fund.’ Well, we figured it’s going to rain like hell on September 13,” to laughs from the crowd.
At the conclusion of Mr. Blais’ speech, some members of the crowd applauded.
More public hearings
Two joint Lake George Village and Town Board Public Hearings on the village dissolution proposal are scheduled, both on Sept. 7, at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall and on Zoom, and at 6 p.m. at the High School Auditorium. A Village Board public hearing is set for Sept. 12, 6 p.m. at the Village Hall and on Zoom. The vote is Sept. 13.
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