LAKE GEORGE - Who takes over the village assets and debts if the village dissolves will dramatically effect taxes, and the issue has already sparked controversy.
After years of rumors and months of study, Fairweather Consulting presented its findings and recommendations Thursday to the Lake George Village Dissolution Committee. A process riddled with potential pitfalls, committee members waded through the intricacies of a complex hypothetical conglomeration of resources which would eliminate the village.
Under immediate control of Fairweather and local consulting powerhouse Elan Planning and Design, the year-long study apparently is pursuing a positivist, 'can-do' approach. But, if village dissolution and consolidation with the town is to ever come-to- pass concessions will be required, from both sides, officials say.
Lake George Village Mayor Bob Blais has argued that the redundancy in services is an unnecessary drain on the local tax-base, especially village property owners, and that village dissolution and an accompanying consolidation would be to the benefit of residents within both municipalities.
"This undertaking needs to be a win-win for everyone," said Dissolution Committee Member John Carr. "Everything boils down to who is using it and who is paying for it."
The primary sticking point, is, of course, the proverbial 'brass tacks.'
Lake George village owns assets exceeding $10.9 million in value, including the water treatment plant and rights to collect the massive parking ticket revenue. Conversely, the $2 million dollar general fund debt service and 25 year mortgage on the new firehouse is an ever-present reality as well.
It is the ownership of these two monetary entities that defines the current debate.
New York State Law states that upon dissolution, the assets of the former village become property of the town, Weidemann said. Furthermore, without a contract with the town stating otherwise, village debt would fall to the former village residents and property owners only, according to New York Town Law.
"The village may be able to negotiate with the town for some payment for the assets," Fairweather Senior Associate Tim Weidemann said to the committee. "The question is: Is the town ready to provide payment for some of the services and the many assets of the village?"
In the Fairweather proposal, the town would re-hire former village employees eliminating primarily only 'titles' Weidemann said. Only staff directly associated to the mayor would be left without work. Most of the current village will be encompassed in a 'hamlet district' made up of smaller districts that encompass services like sidewalks and street lights, independently responsible for its debt, and void of its former assets.
Village residents don't want to be required to shoulder the debt burden on their own.
"This whole thing has to be fair for everyone," Carr said.
In response, Fairweather suggests that the village attempt to negotiate with the town, seeking payment for their assets. According to Weidemann's model, if the town was to take on all of the village's debt, the town taxpayer would experience a 40 percent tax hike instead of the 9 percent that will be absorbed by non-hamlet residents if the village is not reimbursed by the town, Weidemann said.
"The most important thing here is to start the consolidation with an understanding of what happens to the assets and liabilities," Weidemann said.
A second model proposed by Carr, would have the revenue generated by money-making services not go directly into town coffers, but instead be used to pay off the village's debts.
"We certainly have no problem with taking it (the village)," Lake George Town Supervisor Lou Tessier said in an interview. "But we certainly don't need all of that excess equipment and manpower."
Tessier said that he expects a long and rigorous negotiation process between the two municipalities, but noted that the assets become town property by default.
"We are willing to work on it with them," Tessier said. "I think there is potential to save taxpayer money in the long run with this plan."
A public hearing on the issue will be held Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. at the village hall. A tentative date for a vote on the proposition has been set for March 18, officials said.