ELIZABETHTOWN — Despite their festive attire — including comically-large bow ties and wardrobe choices that protected all participants from Leprechaun pinches — the Essex County board of supervisors was all business at their meeting on Monday, March 17 at the Government Center.
Among the most salient topics: swelling infrastructure expenditures, a private lawsuit-related discussion session and the North Country’s simmering property tax issues.
Lawmakers grilled outgoing Department of Public Works superintendent Anthony LaVigne on his resolution for an additional $28,000 from the board to pay contractors to refurbish the county garage in Lewis by stripping off the deteriorating siding and putting up a cement overcoat.
After a volley of hard-hitting questions from the lawmakers — including why the project, which was originally capped at $100,000, needed to go out to bid, the timeframe for project commencement, the choice in building materials (a type of long-lasting concrete, not plastic siding), exactly how long exposed insulation could withstand the elements and what a possible threshold for “just good enough” might be when it comes to how much cash to pump into the project before tightening their purse strings — the resolution was tabled by committee chairman Gerald Morrow after a request from Westport town supervisor Dan Connell to allow LaVigne another month to root out the necessary info.
LaVigne is slated to retire in May. A decision to who will replace him has not yet been made public.
County attorney Daniel Manning called for an executive session — a privilege the board is awarded by state law to discuss sensitive issues, including discussions regarding proposed, pending or current litigation — to discuss a “possible lawsuit” related to Level 3 Communications, LLC.
Officials emerged after 50 minutes behind closed doors as members of the public waited in the galley for the animal task force meeting that had been pushed back, many wearing cross expressions, and didn’t appear to be keen on informing the press what they discussed.
“Nothing was decided,” said St. Armand town supervisor Charles Whitson. “It needs further study and we’ll present it again another time.”
According to their website, Level 3 Communications is a Colorado-based network systems provider.
Following the closed door pow-wow, Crown Point supervisor Charles Harrington asked if the county planned on holding regular tax auctions after the upcoming sale scheduled for April 30, a topic that was not on the agenda:
“What do you want me to do?” asked an exasperated-looking Manning, who had previously told the board that his office had been working diligently with other county departments to ready the properties seized in 2009 and afterwards — those not included in next month’s auction, which only includes properties from 2006-08 — for what the county hopes will be an annual event designing to bring in revenue.
Treasurer Michael Diskin said the county is shooting for September or October for the next spate of auctions for county-seized property, with the earliest possible date sometime in July.
The last auction was in 2006 and the next is scheduled for April 30.
“Maybe we can pass a resolution to hire some additional help for Mr. Manning,” quipped Randy Douglas, the board’s chairman.
Real Property Tax Services director Charli Lewis reported three schools have opted into the Veteran’s Tax Break, including those in Willsboro, Ticonderoga and AuSable Valley in Clinton County.
That break would shift a portion of the tax share from veterans to other taxpayers based on a three-tier ranking according to combat experience.
Lewis also told the board 1062 homes in the county will be stricken from the STAR list if they don’t register before the end of the week.
As of March 3, 88 percent of the county’s 6,523 eligible homes have done so. Lewis stressed if their residences are removed from the list, homeowners must file appeals with state authorities — not the county office.
Bringing attention to what’s quickly becoming his signature issue, Ticonderoga town supervisor Bill Grinnell, currently serving his first term after taking office in January, presented a letter written by Ticonderoga Central School Superintendent John C. McDonald, Jr. last month referring to a resolution passed by the district’s board that asked the state to “recognize the unique circumstances that come with living in the Park” and to present a “unified front” to the legislature and the Governor.
Grinnell asked the board to “pass it around” and stressed that it wasn’t an official resolution, but rather food for thought.
The letter said the park’s regulations, including what McDonald calls an “extensive permitting process,” presented a boundary to economic development and that the growing amount of state-owned land hobbles the extension of the tax base.
As such, according to the letter, schools have come to rely too much on local property taxes for revenue, which when paired with the tax cap, puts the region’s children at a disadvantage.
“Since the Park was established, and is constantly touted as the ‘playground’ for the state to be experienced by tourists and future generations, the state executive and legislative branches should establish a fund to support the public education institutions within the park and reduce their reliance on the property tax.”
McDonald closed by calling for local school districts and other municipal entities to join them and kick the resolution upward to the state legislature.
“I might be able to support this, but I can’t support it the way it’s currently written,” said Douglas after quickly perusing the two-page document. “Quite frankly, the word ‘playground’ is offensive.”
“Feel free to modify it,” said Grinnell. “But the word ‘playground’ is the Governor’s choice in words, not mine.”
“I just don’t want to be at the crossroads,” said Douglas, noting Governor Cuomo’s intense involvement in the region. “The wording has to be very careful.”
Tom Scozzafava, the Moriah town supervisor chairing the finance subcommittee, called the dynamics of the region “cloudy” and said he continually strives to reach a compromise between the Governor’s efforts, which he said went “above and beyond” those of his predecessors, and those who are more critical of his policies and seek a harder line on economic development within the Blue Line.
North Hudson town supervisor Ronald Moore said while he was reluctant to bring it up following a contentious three-hour session, he wanted to draw attention to the signage displayed by Gokey’s Trading Post and Adirondack Buffalo Company off Exit 29 on the Northway that drew the ire of the Department of Transportation.
Moore said the DOT asked the two businesses to remove their signs last week from what they say is state land.
According to Moore, the two businesses claim they have seen a 30-40 percent bump in sales since the signs were erected and don’t want to remove their signage.
“There’s not a lot of businesses in North Hudson,” said Moore.
Manning told lawmakers the sale of Horace Nye into private hands is slated to see a changeover at midnight on Thursday, March 20. “The funds are in escrow and it’s just a matter of the bank signing the paperwork.”
If successful, the closing would end the half-decade saga from when the board first explored the idea of reevaluating their relationship with the county-owned elder care facility to the decision to sell right up to the ongoing legal wrangling that has held up a transfer that was originally scheduled for the beginning of this year.