The village of Saranac Lake intends to phase-out funding for a local business organization starting next year, but the plan is drawing criticism from the group's membership.
Meanwhile, trustees say they intend to follow through on a plan to eliminate double-taxation within the village budget.
The president of the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors told trustees this week that the board should reconsider its decision to draw-down funding for the organization.
Speaking during Monday night's regular board meeting, Keith Wells said the chamber represents a worthwhile investment for the village.
"The chamber's staff and its board of directors work diligently to leverage your investment far beyond the dollar amount that it represents," he said. "We're pleased and honored to represent nearly 400 businesses in our region. No where else in our village will one find the quantity and quality of services we provide for Saranac Lake."
Currently, the village is cutting its contribution to the chamber from $15,000 to $10,000. That contribution will be cut by another $5,000 next year, and totally phased-out by the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
Funding for the Saranac Lake Civic Center and the Saranac Lake Adult Center had also been cut from this year's budget, but trustees restored it last week.
Trustees plan to cutback or eliminate funding for all civic organizations and service groups that also receive funding from the towns of St. Armand, North Elba, and Harrietstown. Those changes will occur in the budget for fiscal year 2012-2013.
The chamber receives $20,000 from Harrietstown and $1,000 from North Elba. The town of St. Armand does not contribute to the organization.
Wells says the board's mission to eliminate double-taxation will not result in any significant cuts to village taxes.
"This seems to have been raised by the board as a 'cause celebre' to justify these hurtful cuts made to the various civic and volunteer organizations of our community," he said. "These organizations, including the chamber, are responsible for providing a myriad of services and contribute greatly to our sense of community, our pride, and our quality of life."
Wells told the board the chamber's website attracts more than a quarter million visits annually, contributing to what he called "reasonable success" for the business community despite a tough economy.
Dan Sullivan, a chamber member who owns and operates Adirondack Massage Therapy, echoed those sentiments, noting that chamber events help retain repeat visitors.
But at least one member of the business community thinks the chamber isn't doing an effective job.
Sewa Arora, owner of the Hotel Saranac, told trustees the chamber is little more than a social club, even going so far as to accuse chamber staff of driving business away from his hotel and toward Lake Placid.
Mayor Clyde Rabideau praised the chamber and its membership for its contribution to the community. But he also said the chamber's claim that cutting out "double-taxation" amounts to little savings is false, noting that village's across the state have few options when it comes to cutting their budgets.
"Villages are left with double-taxation scenarios, and it's hard to dissolve a village because we provide essential services," Rabideau said. "And frankly, if we can reduce our costs significantly enough and eliminate double-taxation, we'll be very close - but we'll never achieve - the status of a city, which is shielded from that double-taxation and is a local government in and of itself without that added layer."
Rabideau noted that cutting double-taxation across the board does amount to a significant savings for the village. He also hammered away on the issue of fairness, noting that simply put, village residents pay twice for the same groups and services that town taxpayers pay for just once.
Trustee John McEneany said he was frustrated that the chamber acted surprised when the cuts were announced in this year's budget.
"I'm a little miffed, to be honest with you, over press conferences organized seven months after the chamber was told something, pretending like they never knew it was going to happen," he said. "I guarantee you that there will be a motion coming forward from this board at the next meeting - that will never happen again. They will be on notice."
McEneany said eliminating double-taxation is the ultimate focus of the current board.
"For an organization to come up with the logic that, well, it's not that much of a savings if you reduce those contributions is unbelievable," he said. "We hear that from 30 different organizations, and every organization comes in and says that their tax cut isn't going to make a hill of beans to the taxpayer."
"With that kind of logic, when does it stop?" McEneany asked. "We're looking at this budget, there's not a lot of fluff in it. I wish we could cut hundreds of thousands of dollars out of these budgets. We can't - we gotta cut hundreds of dollars."
The board meets for another work session on the budget at 5 p.m. Monday.