WILLSBORO A recent Willsboro meeting brought people out to discuss concerns about a local agencys recent property purchases.
It was standing room only as about 40 residents and members of the town board asked questions of Dipu Basu, executive director of Mountain Lake Services (MLS), on Aug. 25.
MLS, formerly known as Essex County ARC, currently serves 20 developmentally disabled residents in Willsboro.
Willsboro supervisor Robert Ashline opened the meeting reading a statement from the board, acknowledging the agencys benefit to the town, but asking it to consider other less-saturated towns for housing. At issue was the agencys tax-exempt status and recent land purchases.
MLS serves 500 people in Essex County, with 204 living in residences.
It currently owns six properties in Willsboro, three of which were purchased in the last year and a half.
Basu said that a recent push by state agencies to right size homes was behind MLS recent land purchases. MLS plans to move the twelve current residents of the Clarence Oliver Drive to three homes of four residents each.
Today the service model is shifting. New York State has realized that putting 12 people in houses are creating mini-institutions. They do not like that - they're going toward putting people in smaller homes, said Basu.
The larger Clarence Oliver Drive residence will be transformed into a day habilitation site for Willsboro MLS consumers. Basu explained that it would save time and expense of transportation to Keeseville.
Tax-exempt status raises concerns
The main concerns many residents voiced was the impact of removing a property from the tax rolls. Homes owned by MLS are tax exempt.
Basu explained that the agency made $5,000 of PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) to the town last year. Ashline confirmed that the payment covered the part of town taxes due, and added that the agency wasnt required to offer the payment.
However, the agency does not pay county or school taxes. Willsboro resident Doug Ferris acknowledged the benefits of having MLS in the community, but worried having more MLS homes would ransom the future of the school.
Why can't you make a payment in lieu of tax to the county or school? Doug Ferris asked.
Dipu said that MLS status as an educational organization prevented that, and would create problems with the IRS. The payments to the town can be made in return for services the homes receive, such as snow removal.
Resident Win Belanger asked that MLS reconsider the amount of the PILOT payment, since assessments continue to increase in Willsboro.
I don't see any reason we can't take look at that and see what can be done, said Basu.
Resident Brad Paye said he was comfortable with the increase on his school taxes, believing MLS benefits to the community offset the cost.
Seventh land purchase planned
Basu said the agency desired to purchase one more home in the region to serve four new clients, which would max the Willsboro regions MLS population at 24. The number was determined by how many residents would be served at the future Willsboro day site at Clarence Oliver drive.
Resident Terry McMahon was critical of the plans, wondering if there was a way to stop MLS from purchasing more homes. McMahon asked if the town would be able to sue or create a moratorium on purchases by MLS.
Ashline responded that it wouldnt work.
They are legally within their right to purchase, said Ashline. I don't believe they've ever been in court.
Basu said work on two of the new properties was currently ongoing, and that two would open by the end of the year.
MLS impact on Willsboros economy
Basu touted his agencys impact on Willsboros economy, saying that 42 Willsboro residents were employed by the agency. MLS currently spends $3.3 million in Willsboro.
Its not sub-standard wages. This is an economic engine in Essex County, said Basu. Take these things into the account - what is the impact of the people living in the community.
If MLS follows its plans, Basu said a total of 18 new jobs would be created to staff the day site and new residences.