Ticonderoga school officials have it right, the Adirondack Park is a special place with special needs, according to Moriah’s town supervisor.
“I have to give Mr. McDonald (John McDonald, Ti school superintendent) credit,” said Tom Scozzafava, Moriah supervisor. “He’s right. The Adirondacks are different from the rest of the state. We’re the only region where the state limits development of private property.
“The state needs to find a different formula for distributing aid to municipalities and schools in the Adirondacks,” he said.
The Ti school board has adopted a resolution asking the state to create a special fund for Adirondack schools and is asking local school districts and other officials to join in the campaign.
The money for the education fund could be generated by those who use the Adirondack Park, McDonald suggested.
“Since the Adirondack Park was established and is constantly touted as the ‘playground’ for the state, it’s only fair that those who benefit from it should help those who live in it,” McDonald said.
Scozzafava likes the idea, but feels municipalities should be included, too.
“People who visit from outside the park are using infrastructure supported by our property taxes,” he said. “Yet our tax base, our ability to raise money, is limited by the Adirondack Park Act, not by our choice. The day may come when those visitors won’t have highways and bridges to drive on.”
A person coming to Adirondacks to ski expects roads to be clear during snowstorms, Scozzafava noted. A single storm, though, can cost Moriah taxpayers $10,000.
He also noted Moriah, and other towns, are not repairing and maintaining roads and bridges properly because of a lack of funds.
“We have aging equipment and limited resources,” Scozzafava said. “We just don’t have the money.
“These are challenging times for any municipality dependent on property taxes,” the supervisor said. “It’s getting more and more difficult to provide the services people depend on. In the Adirondack Park we don’t have the luxury of an expanding tax base.”
Scozzafava would like to see the state impose fees on tires, vehicle parts, supplies and vehicle registrations. Those fees could then be used to create a dedicated fund for highway and bridge repair and maintenence.
“The state has to do something,” Scozzafava said. “We can’t let our infrastructure fall to pieces.”
Property taxes aren’t fair to land owners, Scozzafava said, noting the value of a home does not necessarily reflect a person’s ability to pay taxes.
“Property values are not a good measure of a community’s ability to pay taxes,” McDonald said, noting the existence of many high-value second homes in the park. “A community can have high property values, but its year-round residents may not be able to afford higher school taxes.”
He used Ticonderoga as an example. The Ti school district, which borders both Lake George and Lake Champlain, has the highest property values in this area. Yet, the school serves free or reduced price lunches to 48 percent of its students.
The Adirondack Park has changed since it was created in 1892, officials note. Then it was 2.6 million acres. Now it’s 6.1 million acres. The APA was formed in 1971 and regulations adopted to restrict development. Also, the state forest preserve has more than doubled.
“The park is a unique resource that New Yorkers should be proud of,” McDonald said, “but what has not been fully considered throughout its evolution and growth is the negative impact on the public educational institutions and the children they serve.”