A proposal to discontinue funding for a senior citizens organization dominated the discourse at Monday night's public hearing on the tentative Saranac Lake Village Budget for 2011-2012.
In its current form, the budget features $4.8 million in general fund expenditures and carries a 3.7 percent increase to the tax levy. Trustees, however, say they plan to whittle that down to a zero percent increase.
The preliminary budget plan aims to cut $5,000 in funding for the Saranac Lake Adult Center - that represents the total village contribution to the organization in last year's budget.
Other civic groups, like the Saranac Lake Civic Center and the Robert Louis Stevenson Society, would also lose funding under the current proposal.
Village officials say funding for the adult center represents the kind of double-taxation that needs to stop. Opponents of the plan say the funding supports one of the community's most important resources.
Treasurer Paul Ellis began the hearing by outlining the village's policy on ending double-taxation. Ellis notes that the towns of Harrietstown, North Elba, and St. Armand contribute more than $20,000 to the adult center.
"All of these contributions come from the general fund tax base, meaning that the village residents pay their share of these contributions through their town's tax base," he said.
"Should the village continue to contribute on its own, and not through the underlying towns, it will be double-taxing its taxpayers," Ellis added. "No other municipality double-taxes its taxpayers for the support of the adult center - only Saranac Lake taxpayers are double-taxed for their support of the adult center."
But taxpayers in attendance, like Alton Beideck of Saranac Lake, disagreed. He blasted the board for its decision to leave out adult center funding.
"I think you're probably the only board that is going on record in Franklin County - maybe in the whole North Country - for not supporting an adult center; it's going to be a great honor for you, I know," he said, with more than a hint of sarcasm."
Gina Norton is director of the Saranac Lake Adult Center. She says the organization represents those individuals who are most in need of assistance.
"These seniors worry each day how to pay their bills, pay for food, and be able to continue to afford to remain in their homes," Norton said. "These are the same individuals who, throughout their lives, have been contributing citizens of Saranac Lake."
According to Norton, 300 seniors belong to the adult center - 75 percent of whom live inside the village limits.
Nearly 20 people turned out for last night's public hearing. And while most spoke out against the proposed cuts to the adult center, some, like Kelly Duffy of Saranac Lake, protested proposed cuts elsewhere.
Duffy said cutting funding for the civic center was a bad idea.
"I know times are hard, but if I was going to run in that position that you are in, it would be youth and infrastructure," he said. "I think cutting the civic center funding is wrong - if, in fact, that's what you're going to do. I hope you're not - I think there are other places to cut. Our youth are very important, to me anyway."
Others, like Wayne Bujold of Saranac Lake, said the village needs to look elsewhere to make cuts.
"My company put a freeze on hiring and a freeze on raises back in 2007," he said. "I see a lot of raises going through at municipalities if I'm not mistaken. And I see a police force of multi-millions of dollars, I believe, with a state trooper barracks in Ray Brook, one of the largest in New York. You might look at making some other adjustments."
After the meeting, Trustee Jeff Branch said he's always looked to support programming for youth and seniors. But he also notes that the issue of double-taxation can't be ignored.
"I have always had two things about funding: we take care of the kids and the seniors - and I've never wavered from that," he said. "People need to understand what a problem this double-taxation is, which is why I belonged to the Government Restructuring Committee and now belong to the implementation committee - that would do away with these problems."
"We have to look at it and understand what a big problem double-taxation is, but we also have to understand how and who we effect," Branch added.
Branch says the board is just beginning to work on the proposed budget, and he adds that he's "anxious" to whittle down the tentative tax increase.