A member of the Saranac Lake Village Board of Trustees is opposing a pair of resolutions that would have ComLinks conduct inspections of rental properties.
As part of a grant-funded project aimed at improving rental housing units, the village must complete lead-based paint assessments and energy audits.
During Monday night’s regular board meeting, trustees considered a pair of resolutions that would have entered the village into a memorandum of understanding with ComLinks.
Under one of the proposed agreements, ComLinks would charge $850 per unit to conduct state-mandated lead-based paint inspections. The other MOU allows ComLinks to charge $400 per unit to perform an energy audit.
Jeremy Evans is community development director for the village of Saranac Lake.
“These two memorandums of understanding allow us to have, going forward, a consistent price, and a known and consistent timeframe in which these tests and reports would be conducted and the results returned to us, which is important to me just so these projects can stay on track,” he said.
The rental rehabilitation program aims to fix-up and improve 24 total units in the village.
Trustee John McEneany pointed out during Monday’s meeting that ComLinks is not registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct lead-based testing.
He also says the total pay-out for ComLinks to perform the lead inspections is approximately $20,000 and in his estimation should be competitively bid and not just handed to one agency.
“I’m sure there are other entities who would be interested in seeing if they could apply for that testing,” McEneany said.
Evans says he received just one quote from another interested party – but that was for $1,050 per unit.
McEneany asked Evans if a $20,000 project warranted a request for proposals – Evans responded by saying it “probably should.”
Trustees Jeff Branch and Allie Pelletieri both said they would like to see the project go out to bid.
Pelletieri said he was under the impression that Tom Worthington, the village’s code enforcement officer, would be able to perform many of the inspections himself.
“We would be doing, in-house, these testings, therefore bringing money in,” he said. “I know it’s grant money but it would come back to us and it would help pay for this. I was under the impression we were working toward that goal to do it ourselves, and then pay ourselves.”
But Pelletieri’s biggest concern is working with ComLinks.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not a ComLinks fan,” he said. “I’ve seen them bring a lot of stuff into the village – it was all tax-exempt. They really aren’t, in my opinion, a friend of the village taxpayer.”
Pelletieri also brought up ComLinks’ recent fiscal issues with the New York State Comptroller’s Office.
A 2009 audit found that the agency’s former executive director, Nancy Reich, used more than $100,000 in state grant monies to fund a lavish lifestyle, which included expensive meals and unnecessary overnight stays at expensive hotels.
“ComLinks in itself has been accused – and basically I think it’s a proven fact – of misuse of funds to quite a substantial amount,” Pelletieri said. “And I really don’t like to do business with companies that misuse the taxpayers’ money. I think they should be run out of town, and run out of business.”
Trustee Jeff Branch noted that if the MOUs were approved, ComLinks – a not-for-profit agency – would be receiving taxpayer dollars to perform work that a private business should at least be allowed to bid on.
“Why not send it out to bid and give some contractors who may be looking for some work to pay their taxes a chance at bidding on it?” he asked.
Following the discussion, trustees voted unanimously to table both resolutions.
The board plans to revaluate the lead-based paint inspections and the energy audits and come to a decision on whether or not to send the projects to bid in the coming weeks.