Lake George Town Supervisor Dennis Dickinson reacts when he hears Aug. 1 from Lake George Village Mayor Robert Blais (foreground) that the village is unwilling to sell back any of its shares in the Charles Wood Park — shares that it obtained from the town last year.
Turning away from a tentative agreement made two months ago, Lake George Village leaders don’t want to give up any portion of the 38 percent of the Charles Wood Park they own to allow the town to regain ownership, Mayor Blais announced Wednesday Aug. I.
His announcement — that the village was backing off its earlier pledge to redistribute ownership in even thirds between the county, town and village — surprised and irked county leaders, as well as Lake George Town Supervisor Dennis Dickinson.
“I’m disappointed and upset,” Dickinson said. “We all should be equal players in the project.”
Glens Falls Ward 5 Supervisor Bill Kenny characterized the apparent lack of cooperation as “childish.”
Blais made the announcement soon after county Administrator Paul Dusek detailed what the shares were worth, and how much money the three municipalities would exchange to reallocate the shares and settle up lingering inter-municipal debts.
The one-third-each financial settlement called for the town pay $529,770 to purchase 33 shares from the county, and for the village to pay the county $103,184 to give up 5 shares to the town.
Mayor Blais said that for the village to pay to give up its shares – which it obtained at a hefty discount – was a bad deal for village citizens.
“We’ve made some very good business decisions — we got a good deal, and we don’t want to spend any money to decrease our ownership position,“ Blais said.
The discord over ownership has roots in the Town of Lake George’s action, under a previous administration, to sell its 19 percent portion to the village for $210,000, after a dispute erupted about what buildings in the park’s festival space should be demolished.
Since the project’s inception, Warren County has owned 62 percent of the park, with the town and village each starting out with 19 percent. The village’s share doubled to 38 percent with the sale, was underwritten by environmental groups.
The new town board, under the leadership of new town supervisor Dennis Dickinson, sought this year to reclaim its former ownership position, and the tentative agreement was reached in June for the three parties to reallocate shares to one-third each.
Wednesday, Blais suggested the town buy whatever shares they wanted from the county and not the village.
Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty and Thurman Supervisor Evelyn Wood both suggested the county sell all but one or two shares in the project.
“Considering this squabbling, the county should sell all but 1 percent of its portion to the town,” he said.
Wood echoed the point.
“The county should get out of the project,” she said. “We shouldn’t have county taxpayers’ money in this.”
Dickinson, Dusek and park project committee chairman Fred Monroe responded, however, that for the county to reduce its portion so drastically would put state and private grants at risk.
“It sends a terrible message to all the project’s supporters for us to back out of it,” he said. “This is a $10 million project, and the county has only $1.4 million invested – it represents a huge value.”
Monroe added that the agreement to develop the park, crafted between the three municipalities and three major environmental groups many years ago with the state’s blessing, would be difficult if not impossible to exit.
“It’s not within the county’s power to disband the conservation easement,” he said.
Visibly irritated with the complexity of the ownership settlement sums that Dusek had prepared – which included expenses not repaid to the county by the village, Geraghty questioned why there was no apparent central oversight of finances.
He called for a “point person” to handle the accounting for the park project. Dusek said that such duties were never assigned by the Board of Supervisors, but his office would temporarily undertake those tasks and prepare a list of payments to be exchanged.
County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Stec said that the county would be considering Blais’ proposal that the county sell splitting its shares evenly with the town — so they’d each hold 31 shares, while the village retains 38.
“Apparently the town leadership is experiencing ‘sticker shock,’” he said, adding that decisions affecting the project require approval of all three parties anyway since the deed for the park lists the three municipalities as “tenants in common.”
“The exact amount of shares each party owns doesn’t really matter,” he said.
The only aspect where ownership portion would matter, is in divvying up profits or debts, and Stec said no net profits are expected from the venture The revenue from renting the festival space and parking revenue is offset by a variety of costs, including maintenance of the entire park, most of which is reserved for wetlands to purify stormwater flowing into the lake.
After the meeting, Dickinson moderated his reactions, saying that he understood why the village would balk at paying $103,184 to give away five shares, and he added that for the town to pay more than $500,000 to regain ownership would be a strain on the town budget. He said he would be meeting this next week with county officials to go over figures and seek a compromise, if possible.
“As a new town supervisor, I want to be cautious with taxpayers’ money,” he said.