At first glance, the waters of the expansive lake that lends its name to this village in southwest Franklin County are as tranquil as ever. Beneath the icy surface, however, a dispute over how tourism funds should be allocated is causing waves.
Franklin County Legislator and Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun (R) wants the county to help pay to print recreational tourist maps for the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce and requested $8,000 to do so. But he was stymied at the year’s final county board meeting, an emergency session held on Dec. 31, when Chairman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) nixed the proposal, arguing that Maroun needs to go through the newly formed Franklin County Tourism Advisory Committee, or TAC, to receive his funds.
TAC was created last year to take over tourism-related policy from the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency (FCIDA), a public agency that provides financial assistance to local businesses, in deciding how the county’s annual tourism funds would be spent.
Maroun argued Franklin County’s 2013 Budget allowed $75,000 for tourism-related activities. He said $25,000 went to Essex County’s Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST) to promote Saranac Lake and $25,000 went to the Cornell Cooperative Extension to develop agritourism.
Some of the remaining $25,000, argued Maroun, should therefore go to Tupper Lake to print tourism guides.
Maroun initially asked for $16,000 in mid-2013 of the remaining $25,000 to promote the Tupper Lake region, but he withdrew the request as long as his area was given future consideration for funding.
He later arrived at a figure of $8,000 based on the guides that Lake Placid and Saranac Lake assembled to promote their activities and attractions, which is why he was asking for the same.
“I’m not sure what the $16,000 request was for,” said Jones. “There was not an additional $25,000 available. I have no idea where that figure came from.”
Jones said the seven-member board couldn’t approve Maroun’s request because all tourism-related costs should first go through TAC for approval. TAC’s members are appointed by the county legislators.
“I’m not against the tour guide or anything having to do with Tupper Lake,” he said. “We set up TAC and Tupper Lake has some good representation on it. But if it’s tourism-related, then it goes through that committee like other members.”
Jones said that, “he doesn’t feel that way,” when it comes to the Maroun argument that since TAC was created after legislators had awarded $50,000 to the other agencies, his $8,000 request is up to the legislators — not TAC.
“We had an agreement,” said Maroun.
“I don’t know what funds he’s referring to,” said Jones. “There was never another line-item for $25,000 funds. But there was some carry-over from the FCIDA accounts, but that will go directly in TAC. I’ve talked to TAC members about it, and if Tupper Lake wants some resources, then they should go through them.”
Maroun agrees that the disputed funds originally came from carry-over funds that weren’t spent over the years that was turned over the county, the original appropriating authority back in 2012.
“At the time, there was some $40,000,” he said, referring to the carry-over funds. “After we knew that things would be divided differently with TAC, the $40,000 was appropriated and I thought it was only fair that Tupper Lake could get some of that money. But this was discussed before TAC was even created [in March 2013] and the board members reached a tentative agreement — that’s the crux of my argument and my people got shortchanged.”
According to Fawn Tetro, a tourism administrator employed part-time by the county, Maroun’s request hasn’t officially reached TAC.
“They’re certainly welcome to call and put it on the agenda,” she said.
When asked about this specific issue, TAC carefully hedged on a timeframe for making a decision.
“As a member of TAC, we’ve been informed that that account is there and that we have been told that we need to decide as a group how to allocate it,” said Franklin County Events Coordinator and TAC board member Michele Clement.
According to Clement, there’s some argument as if the carry-over funds in question rolled over to TAC or if it’s the hands of the legislature.
“As a member of TAC, we’re currently devising a plan to accolate that funding.”
“The buck stops with the county legislature,” countered Maroun. “We’re the funding authority. If we’re afraid to approach TAC with how we think it should be done, we’re not doing our job and it’s a disservice to the taxpayers.”
The issue wasn’t addressed at the most recent county board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 14.
Tupper Lake is currently selling ad space to local merchants to fund the guides. “We’re going to print them whether or not TAC comes through with the money,” said Maroun.