The Saranac Lake Village Board of Trustees unanimously adopted the 2011-2012 budget during Monday night's regular meeting, restoring a paid fire driver in the process.
This year's budget now carries a 2 percent increase to the tax levy. The tax rate in the town of Harrietstown will decrease by about 7 percent, while the tax rate in the towns of St. Armand and North Elba will jump by about 7 percent, according to village Treasurer Paul Ellis.
Following a series of work sessions, trustees seemed poised to cut four positions in order to zero-out any increase to the tax levy.
The positions included a part-time clerk at the police department, a laborer at the village Department of Public Works, a deputy treasurer, and one paid fire driver.
But after listening to concerns from officials at the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department, trustees opted to restore funding for the fifth paid fire driver.
During the public comment portion of last night's meeting, Chris Tissot told trustees that keeping a full staff at the fire department is essential to public safety.
Early Friday morning, his business, Tissot Construction, caught fire and was most likely saved by the fire department's rapid response.
"I understand that both full-time drivers as well as the chief were able to have water flowing on the fire within five to 10 minutes, which was substantially before other actions were taken at the scene," Tissot said. "I've been informed, and I fully believe, that without all three of them arriving as quickly as they did, they whole structure would have been lost. It's really pretty amazing that they were able to save it."
Rick Knapton, who lives across from Tissot Construction and reported Friday's fire, also spoke in support of the fire department.
"The speed in which they got there was amazing," he said. "I'd like to see that ability to continue. We all pay home insurance and all this; we don't use it for 20 years, which is fine. But when you need it, it makes a big difference."
Prior to restoring funding for the position, Deputy Mayor Jeff Branch said he spoke with the fire department's chief, Brendan Keough, over the weekend.
That conversation led Branch to change his mind. But he says that, in the future, the dialogue needs to occur prior to the budget season.
"That's my one wish, if we could somehow make an agreement that next year at this time we won't have to fight this because we'll have some sort of long-term solution," he said.
The resolution restoring funding for the fire driver position passed unanimously. Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who doesn't vote except in the event of a deadlock, said he also changed his mind about the driver.
Following the meeting, Chief Keough told reporters that he was pleased with the decision.
Keough says Rabideau and Branch went to great lengths to work on the matter with the fire department.
"We recognize that they have a responsibility to village taxpayers, and they're under really tough times regarding the taxes in their budget," he said. "But we have a responsibility to village residents for public safety. We were able to work together and come to a resolution together and I think that makes all the difference - I'm very pleased with it."
"We have a lot more work to do," Keough added. "Together, I think we can help each other, and hopefully come June we'll be able to get working on it. There are some ideas on the table to make things better and to continue to improve what we do, hopefully we can do that."
After voting on the fire driver resolution, the board voted unanimously to adopt the 2011-2012 village budget.
Monday's board meeting was well-attended by local fire and rescue volunteers.
Trustee Tom Catillaz was absent from last night's meeting.