Lake Placid News Editor Andy Flynn spoke with town of North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi on Thursday, March 27 at the LPN office on Mill Hill. Politi owns/operates the Merrill L. Thomas real estate company in Lake Placid.
LPN: Your job is different in that you're not just the town supervisor, but you also sit on the Essex County Board of Supervisors. That must make things a little difficult.
SUPERVISOR: It's certainly, at times, challenging. I don't think it's a difficult job. You deal with so many people who have issues that are much different than Lake Placid and North Elba's issues. So you have to be able to adapt to understand the things that really affect communities that don't have as much as we have.
Town of North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi poses with the historic Lake Placid News editorial board. (Photo — Andy Flynn)
LPN: Do you like that variety?
SUPERVISOR: Yeah, I do. When I first got elected, people always said to me, "Oh my gosh, the county's going to be very difficult." The fact is I like working at the county. I like the supervisors that I'm dealing with. I enjoy being down there (in Elizabethtown). ... I find it at times to be financially challenging given what's going on in the state of New York and the effect on counties across the state.
LPN: Are there things that you learn from other communities, other towns, because all the solutions aren't here?
SUPERVISOR: I don't know that I've necessarily learned the things that they're doing differently. Lake Placid is a very unique place. We have so many things that these other small towns would never have the ability to get to in terms of a level of services because of our population and the amount of business that is done here.
And, quite frankly, the Lake Placid name. The Lake Placid name garners a lot of interest from the state of New York from both a grant standpoint and from an interest in participating in a partnership with what we have going on.
But one of the things that I recognize is the fact that these other smaller communities don't have the amount of services that we have, and that the county plays a more important role in not only their services but in the growth of those real rural areas.
I think it's been enlightening. I found out some things that I didn't realize. I didn't realize the things that the county owned. We've had to make some very difficult decisions, some challenging decisions, some good decisions. I think the sale of the Horace Nye Nursing Home was a very good decision. I think it was in the best interest of the taxpayers of Essex County. Now there are a lot of people down in Elizabethtown, Lewis and so forth that felt differently. A lot of those folks were people who were utilizing that facility more or work there. North Elba doesn't have a lot of people who work on the county level. County jobs primarily come from Moriah, Lewis and Elizabethtown.
LPN: How do you separate that interest for the county versus the interest for your town?
SUPERVISOR: I think that's a difficult thing. My feeling is usually, first and foremost, what's in the best interest of my constituents, my town. But I also have to always consider the interests and how it affects the rest of the county.
It wasn't in our best interest here in Lake Placid and North Elba to endorse a 17-million-dollar radio program for all of Essex County, an emergency radio system, because Lake Placid has one in place. I voted against it. Seventeen towns voted for it. Once the vote came down, I have to realize that all the other towns don't have the financial ability or capability to initiate such a program. The county had to do it. Then I feel it's in the best interest of the county and the town, knowing that the vote has been done and the county's going to go in that direction, to support that service. It is an absolute necessity for the little towns because without it, they wouldn't have access to expediate those types of emergency situations.
LPN: The budget is always a problem, and there's been renewed interest in increasing the occupancy tax (from 3 to 5 percent). You've been clear on your stance on this issue.
SUPERVISOR: I don't think that's going to happen. I don't think the state is going to support an increase in occupancy tax, and I'm certainly not going to support an occupancy tax situation that does not benefit tourism. If, in fact, the votes were going to come down to support an occupancy tax, I would do the most I can do to make sure that that money is being utilized solely for enhancement of tourism because the majority of those monies come from Lake Placid. Lake Placid generates almost 90 percent of the occupancy tax. ... Right now, the money goes back to the Essex County visitors bureau, and that money is then utilized to promote tourism.
The more people that come here, the more sales tax is generated. The more sales tax that is generated, the more distribution of sales tax that goes back to towns. And that's something that we never did before, and it's the one thing that I pushed hardest for when I was elected. And I think it's the one thing that benefits this community and the budgets of all the small towns across Essex County.
LPN: What's the most pressing issue at the county level?
SUPERVISOR: The most pressing issue is what you just hit on, and it is the financial stability of the county and the budget. It is unfortunate that the state is pushing for the consolidation of government services, which is a good thing, and reduction of costs, which is a good thing, for municipalities and counties; yet, in my opinion, the state is not following the same direction. I think the county has so many unfunded mandates that are being passed down from state government that it makes it extremely difficult to continue to provide the services that are needed throughout the county.
I have a hard time believing that Essex County should be in the bussing business for preschool children. I don't know what the county knows about schools. In my opinion, that's something the schools should be doing.
New York state and California are the only two states in the country which pass Medicare costs on to local and county governments. I think that's unfortunate.
And there are so many other mandates from indigent legal costs and costs associated with the jail that we have no control over.
So much of our budget is unfunded mandates, and it makes it extremely difficult to maintain the services that are needed at a cost that make sense without raising taxes. So that's a real challenge.
LPN: You've been to two of the local Olympic parades, one in Lake Placid and one most recently in Saranac Lake. What event in the Winter Olympics would you like to compete in to represent the U.S.?
SUPERVISOR: I would be an alpine skier because that's what I did all my life. I'm a two-time NCAA All-American in alpine skiing, downhill and slalom. They didn't have super-G when I was skiing. But that's my sport. I was active as the director of NYSEF (New York Ski Educational Foundation) for about five to six years. I've coached the local youth programs in skiing. So that's my interest.
And I'm so thrilled with Andrew Weibrecht and his result (as silver medalist in the super-G event at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia). It took me back to my days of skiing, so I can appreciate that result and what it means to this community, what it means to him, and what it means to the Weibrecht family. It was a phenomenal race. Everybody should see that run; it was unbelievable.
(Editor's note: Part 2 of our conversation with North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi will be printed in next week's issue of the Lake Placid News.)