LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — In an overwhelming landslide, the Village of Lake George is here to stay. A vote Tuesday night resulting in 269 against to 59 for shows village residents are not ready to dissolve their community just yet.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That was the general theme of people walking into the vote last night,” says Village Mayor Robert Blais.
Mayor Blais says the state’s dissolution process was intended to eliminate overly complex governments that often worked on top of each other, especially in smaller communities that can struggle to fill positions. However, he says the Lake George village is not one of them with a massively successful tourism industry and a $7.2 million budget that dwarfs the town’s $2 million.
The vote came as a result of a petition put forward by town code enforcement employee and local business owner, Doug Frost.
“The village board had gone out and gotten money from the state to do a study on dissolution at the beginning of last year. They got three different consulting groups to give them proposals, but then at the end of that process, they decided not to go forward with the study. They only had an interim study done and when people looked at the numbers, there was a conversation about wanting to have a vote to decide whether this was something they wanted to do or not,” Frost explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
“It was an opportunity for people to be heard and to have a chance to vote on the issue, but also an opportunity for them to get information to be able to make an informed decision,” he goes on to say.
“The petition was submitted in the spring of this year at the beginning of one of our busiest seasons in history. We were in the middle of our $24 million wastewater treatment plant project, and then on top of that the 90 days fell right in the middle of the car show,” responds Mayor Blais.
“I can tell you that it put a lot of stress on our employees, on myself, and on our village trustees to try to get the word out to the people, hire a firm to come up with as many facts as we could, and then hold a referendum. The folks in that petition were not confident we were going to do it, but we always intended to after such a busy season,” he further says.
Blais says the proposal to dissolve the village would have resulted in the town seizing the village’s assets to pay down any debt the village still owed. The remaining debt would be allocated to former village residents’ taxes as a newly reformed district of the town.
“Lake George does have a lot of debt,” the mayor concedes. “But the heart of tourism activity centers in the village, and we are proud that we have never raised taxes in 10 years in the Village of Lake George, because of those revenues. All that would have been lost.”
The village’s $7.2 million budget is only made up of $1.5 million in resident taxes. The rest is made up of sales tax, occupancy tax, franchise taxes, and largest is parking meter revenue at $1.4 million a year.
Even the possibility to eliminate the village caused quite the stir in town. Lake George Steamboat Company President Bill Dow penned a letter to every village resident in his final days before he passed Tuesday morning, urging his neighbors not to allow the village’s history to be snuffed out.
“There is no question that Mr. Dow’s letter — that was not only loaded with facts but from his heart — made a difference in the election,” says Mayor Blais. “Bill Dow will be sorely missed.”
Blais says the town and village already share water, sewer, the fire department, and many other services, but there’s always the option to do a little more.
“We’ve had one study to combine the highway departments. That hasn’t happened, but I see that in the future if consolidation is not a route to go,” he explains.
Frost says while he is neither shocked nor dismayed by the voting results, he does still believe consolidation or dissolution will be inevitable in the long run.
“In the town right now, there’s an enormous amount of development going on, which ultimately is going to bring in an enormous amount of assessed evaluation which is going to help keep the taxes in the town down, whereas the village is kind of built out and so, you know, that growth isn’t going to be the same. For those reasons, I do believe consolidation or dissolution — which will result in the same thing — is in our best interest,” Frost explains.
Mayor Blais says the village has already voted and approved a proposal to study how much more the town and village can consolidate, but the town hasn’t made its decision. NEWS10 has not received a response from the town.
“The village board has already passed a resolution to participate in an independent study on consolidation, but we would also need participation of the town. Unlike disillusion, which we feel was extremely unfair because the people in the town had no say and no vote, consolidation requires a vote of both the people in the village and the town,” Blais says.