NORTH CREEK - The Warren County budget crisis hit-home this week as the Town of Johnsburg and local businesses scrambled to handle post-storm cleanup on Main Street.
News of the County's reluctance to continue clearing North Creek's sidewalks first broke Dec. 3 at a Public Works Committee meeting.
During the meeting, County Highway Superintendent Bill Lamy mentioned North Creek's clean-up request in the midst of defending the department during budget discussions.
"I received a phone call from Sterling requesting snow removal from the sidewalks of downtown North Creek," Lamy said. "He stated that the business owners were upset about the current state of the sidewalks."
In Johnsburg Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed's absence, Committee members Merlino and Geraghty expressed considerable resistance to the request and disbelief that County personnel were providing the service - including the use of County overtime.
"That was my concern this year but we have been assisting them for years with this," Lamy said.
The board then moved to end the assistance to North Creek without further discussion or dissent.
On Dec. 11, the issue was again brought to the table, this time with Johnsburg's Supervisor Goodspeed present.
"The policy change approved at the last meeting, which I was unable to attend, alters a historical inter-municipal agreement between the County and Johnsburg," Goodspeed said. "In the current economic context, I think the committee's assessment was fair enough, but there has been a deal in place between the two municipalities since the 1980's."
Goodspeed referred to an inter-municipal agreement in which the Town of Johnsburg provided Town land to the County in exchange for sidewalk snow removal in North Creek.
"I have found County correspondence dating back to 1994 where this agreement is referred to," Goodspeed noted in reference to County garage property located at the Ski Bowl in North Creek.
"I understand the committee's decision, but not even allowing us to use the bobcat has totally tied my hands," Goodspeed added.
An agreement was then reached with the County where Town of Johnsburg Highway personnel would be allowed the use of the equipment, at the Town's expense, for the purpose of clearing North Creek's sidewalks.
In a later interview, Goodspeed discussed some of the struggles facing North Creek and it's business district.
"There are three basic issues at work here," he said. "You have the snowplowing on Main Street which the County is obligated to continue. There is the snow removal which the County has agreed to continue to the extent they can on weekdays only and without using overtime, and you have the Town's responsibility."
During the Dec. 16 Town Board meeting, Goodspeed anticipates addressing the third issue by opening bids for any local contractor interested in working on a per-call basis for snow removal in the hamlet.
"I think it's necessary for those times when the County is not performing within their own time limit or when they are not performing in a way that is consistent with the town's goals," Goodspeed added.
"I do believe that as this arrangement smooths out over the next few weeks that we will have better snow removal service but we will need the assistance of local businesses as well. Once we get through this initial transition I believe we will have better service and a better looking Main Street than we have had in 10-15 years."
Goodspeed noted historical concerns with the timely removal of snow along with safety concerns for the elderly and children walking to and from Johnsburg Central School.
The issue was dramatized last month during one of the year's first storms as piles of snow were not removed for 5-6 days.
"Once we get this new system underway, there will be some bumps along the road," Goodspeed added. "But we will be looking forward to a more consistent and timely removal of the snow.
"If North Creek wants to be the village at the base of a superior ski mountain then North Creek needs to take command of it's own destiny," he added. "That means the local business owners and the Town of Johnsburg."
For Laurie Arnheiter, owner of the Hudson River Trading Company on Main Street, safety is a primary factor in her view of the situation.
"My first concern is safety - for my employees who arrive early along with my upstairs tenants who leave early for work," she said. "Secondly, my customers safety is paramount. We take the condition of the sidewalk seriously and any of us will take up the shovel to clear the walk."
Arnheiter expressed frustration that some property owners along Main Street do not provide as consistent a service to the sidewalks - in particular absentee owners.
"I have suggested to our Supervisor that the town board consider assigning a fee for absentee land owners who don't do anything to make the sidewalks in front of their property safe," she said. "Those fees would be tacked on to their property tax on a yearly basis. This is not unique, it is in fact fairly common in municipalities. The fees charged would go toward the plowing budget and help defray the cost of the service."
As the season progresses, issues such as sidewalk maintenance and alternate side parking will continue to be discussed and worked on by the town.
"If we are a ski town, then we need to offer a Currier and Ives experience," Arnheiter said. "Walking in the road or not being able to find a spot to park you car to shop, stop for a meal, or get services in the business district is not visitor friendly."
Adirondack Journal correspondent Jonathan Alexander contributed to the report.