Saranac Lake Village Board of Trustees candidates Mark Gillis, Paul Van Cott, Barbara Rice and Jeff Branch at the Meet the Candidates Forum at the Harrietstown Town Hall March 12.
Four candidates for two Saranac Lake village trustee positions explained their positions on a number of topics during a Meet the Candidates forum Monday, March 12 at the Harrietstown Town Hall.
The forum — co-hosted by Denton Publications, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and the Press-Republican — gave residents a chance to hear candidates’ answers on questions from a three-member panel and the audience.
Enterprise Staff Writer Chris Morris was the moderator and was joined by panelists Andy Flynn, assistant managing editor at Denton Publications; Peter Crowley, managing editor at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise; and Kim Smith Dedam, staff writer at the Press-Republican.
In the hot seats were candidates Jeff Branch (R), Mark Gillis (R), Barbara Rice (D), and Paul Van Cott (D). They will be vying for two, four-year trustee positions in the March 20 election. Each took turns answering questions at a podium in the Town Hall’s auditorium.
Mark Gillis operates a brokerage firm on Academy Street in Saranac Lake. He grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Saranac Lake in the fall of 2011. After high school, he had a choice to make, to either go away to the big-name colleges or study locally.
“I stayed local,” Gillis said.
After graduating, he worked for a stock brokerage firm, where he learned how to read a balance sheet and income statement and how to dissect and put together a business plan.
“Most importantly, I learned how to evaluate cash flow projections and business projections,” Gillis said.
Paul Van Cott is an attorney for the Adirondack Park Agency in Ray Brook. He said this chance to serve Saranac Lake is “humbling.”
“I have three goals,” Van Cott said. “They are broad goals, but they are shared, I believe, by most Saranac Lakers: more jobs, less taxes and a better quality of life. That’s what we need to help Saranac Lake prosper, and that’s what we need so that our children can find jobs here and can afford to live here.”
He said residents deserve a village board that knows Saranac Lake, brings the strongest possible skills and “can get things done.”
Barbara Rice is the co-owner of Rice Furniture in Saranac Lake. She comes from a family who has been active in business and politics in this village for generations.
“It’s with a strong sense of community commitment, responsibility and pride that I’ve entered the race for village trustee,” Rice said. “I have the right combination of community understanding, analytical skill, and practical knowledge to be a strong and positive voice on the village board.”
She said that attracting and sustaining employment is a challenging issue and one that Saranac Lake is not facing alone.
“Our ability to compete for good employers and to expand the existing tax base is essential is we are to continue to thrive as a community,” Rice said.
Jeff Branch is the only incumbent running for village trustee and is counting on his experience and record on the village board to get re-elected.
“I think one of the things that really brings us our success to this current village board is the makeup,” Branch said. “There are no political quorums. There’s two Republicans, two Democrats and one Conservative. This leads to discussion. This leads to talk. This leads to good decision making.”
Branch credited Mayor Clyde Rabideau for leading the village board.
“But, to me, it’s also about the makeup of the board, and I really would like people to consider that as we move forward, about keeping the balance and keeping the forward progress,” Branch said.
The panel asked: When both the village and town help fund community organizations — such as the Chamber of Commerce, Winter Carnival Committee, Adult Center and Youth Center — do you see that as double taxation or double supporting?
Barbara Rice said there a lot of organizations that deserve to be funded, but the village needs to look at what’s fair and equitable.
“Is it fair for some village residents to be paying for a civic organization that is certainly deserving twice while another village resident may not be paying?” Rice said. “What I think can be done is work with the town to figure out ways that we can disperse these costs equitably.”
Jeff Branch said this example is definitely double taxation.
“The question really is, the groups like the Adult Center, the Winter Carnival Committee, the Civic Center, places like that, they depend on the money, and if we take that money away, who’s going to suffer?” Branch said. “It’s not going to be the village board. A lot of these organizations are the seniors and kids, and the seniors and the kids are the ones that are going to suffer.”
Still, Branch said the village must do something about double taxation and work with the towns to figure out how to divide that up.
Mark Gillis said he agrees that the village should work with the towns to come to some kind of resolution so everyone can pay their fair share.
“When we look at the Adult Center, look at the Youth Center, look at the Civic Center, the skating facility, the services that they provide the village are very important,” Gillis said.
He was recently having lunch at a local restaurant and ran into a family from out of town.
“The reason why they’re there? Their kids are playing hockey over at the Civic Center,” Gillis said. “So I think that it’s important that those services are maintained because they give back to the village in many other ways.”
Paul Van Cott said there are two issues in regard to this question: whether the village should be investing in the civic organizations and finding ways to solve double taxation.
“For me, these are all investments we make in our community, and the return on those investments is huge,” Van Cott said. “Not only does it help the people that use them all the time, but it’s part of what makes Saranac Lake special and it brings more people to our community, both as visitors and people that want to live here.”
As for the question of double taxation, Van Cott said he doesn’t have the answer.
“But it offends me that as a resident of the town of North Elba and the village of Saranac Lake, I’m paying North Elba taxes to the town for which the town supervisor has acknowledged I get no services,” Van Cott said, adding that the village needs to work with the surrounding towns to fix the problem.
The village elections will be held from noon to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20 at the Harrietstown Town Hall for all five districts.