Sunday, November 27, 2022

Should Lake George Village be dissolved?

By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff

The Lake George Town Hall meeting room was packed Monday night as Lake George Village held its first informational meeting on potential dissolution. More were watching via Zoom.

A public referendum is set for Sept. 13, triggered by a petition signed by 99 residents.

Speaking for most of the meeting was Ben Syden, Vice President of the Laberge Group, hired by the Village to create an “Interim Dissolution Study,” to “help the electorate…make an informed decision.”

Mayor Bob Blais, who spoke first at the meeting, said the cost of hiring the group was shared by the Village and Town.

A point emphasized throughout the evening was that only village residents get to vote, because the petition called for a referendum on dissolution of the village, not consolidation.

In a consolidation, both governments would be eliminated to create a new one, and town and village residents could vote.

Ben Syden at the podium did most of the talking Monday. He’s from the Laberge Group, hired by the village to “help the electorate make an informed decision.” Photo/Zander Frost

Mayor Blais said he also wrote to the state and Senator Dan Stec, objecting “that our three largest taxpayers in the village of Lake George will not be permitted to vote on this referendum…I think that’s a great fallacy.” He referenced Fort William Henry as one such taxpayer.

He acknowledged that changes in law are “not going to happen by September.”

If the village dissolves, it would become a hamlet within the Town — but its debt would not be absorbed.

Mr. Syden said the debt would fall to a “legacy district.” The dissolved village’s taxpayers would have “a charge on your taxes until that [debt]’s extinguished.” He said retirement and healthcare benefits are “in there as well.”

Mr. Syden said the village could sell its assets in a “fire sale” to reduce the debt.

One such debt would be the new wastewater treatment plant, Mayor Blais said in response to an audience question.

Mr. Syden said the rate of villages dissolving has significantly increased since the introduction of the state’s Citizen Empowerment Tax Credit in 2020 by which the Cuomo administration sought to reduce layers of local government.

Mr. Syden said the credit amounts to “15% of joint tax levy without special districts. For you, that’s roughly half a million dollars a year right now, [$496,000] in perpetuity.”

Of that half-million dollars, a slide explained that “70% must be used towards the reduction of the tax levy” and “30% may be used for further tax reduction or capital improvement projects.”

Mr. Syden said the credit applies across the entire town. “Village residents do not get a special amount back. All properties in the town will get a reduction in town tax levies.”

He added that while the credit is “in perpetuity,” it is possible it could be altered or ended, though Mr. Syden said he did not expect that to happen.

The Laberge Group will post updates and take and answer questions online at labergegroup.com/lakegeorge as it continues to collect information.

Their website said they aim “to answer as many questions as possible and to provide unbiased assessments regarding potential post-dissolution conditions…”

If the dissolution vote on Sept. 13 loses, there is a four year waiting period before the process can be initiated again.

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