A comprehensive plan update is important news since it's about planning the future of a community, but to most people it seems pretty boring. So it was a surprise earlier this year that the comprehensive planning committee for the village of Lake Placid and the town of North Elba lit a bit of a firework.
The plan never actually mentions the hot topic of dissolving the village, but it danced around it enough, with talk of shared services between the town and village, that it rekindled a community-wide conversation about just that.
We're glad it did, not because we necessarily support dissolving the village - we'd need to see a lot more study of pros and cons before we take a position - but because it shows the committee isn't shying away from big issues. Dissolving the village into the town, possibly renamed the town of Lake Placid, is an idea that has dogged the community in the past and will likely be part of its future - a future the committee was asked to envision. If that vision is overly rosy and ignores thorny issues, it's not very useful.
Some major local leaders are for dissolving the village, like town Supervisor and former village Mayor Roby Politi. He tells us he's heard all the arguments and none of them make sense to him. He also thinks the general public doesn't understand the need for two municipalities, and since the town is the one that has to exist by state law, the village is the one that should go.
Others, like village Mayor Craig Randall, would be happy to share and consolidate more services but aren't ready to dissolve the village.
All of this talk is full of risks, which means maybe it won't get much traction for a while. Maybe it will just stick around as an idea waiting for its time to come.
That's where the comprehensive plan comes in. Put it in there as a possibility, let people talk about it, and maybe it'll ripen to maturity - or not.
But whenever any of this gets taken up seriously, the discussion must reach beyond Lake Placid to the rest of the town, unlike the way the new comprehensive plan came about.
The Community Development Board members who hammered out the comprehensive plan all came from what people commonly think of as Lake Placid: the village and the developed area around it. Their plan deals only with that area.
North Elba, however, has 9,000 residents, and only 2,500 of them live in the village of Lake Placid. The U.S. Census Bureau doesn't break down where the rest live, but the comprehensive plan paid essentially no attention to the substantial populations of the hamlet of Ray Brook and the village of Saranac Lake.
Any consolidation of the town with the village of Lake Placid, complete or partial, would affect those people. If the town picks up any of the former village's services, staff, debt, etc., it would likely raise town taxes outside the village. The village of Lake Placid has amassed a fair bit of debt from capital projects that isn't going to go away, and there's also police and fire protection, sidewalks, roads and a trolley service.
If the village were to dissolve, for each village service there would essentially be three options:
1. Get rid of it and deal with the people angry at its loss.
2. Share the expense and deal with the non-village people angry that that taxes are rising. Saranac Lake is perhaps North Elba's biggest unexploded tinderbox. Town officials rarely hear from these folks, who receive almost no town services for their taxes and also pay high taxes to the village of Saranac Lake. If their North Elba taxes were to swell substantially, especially if they felt left out of the decision, they would blow up.
3. Make a district, kind of like a water district, where only people in that district would receive or pay for the service. Such districts would presumably cover in and around the former village - but how far around? There would surely be differences of opinion and district border squabbles between those willing and unwilling to pay for the services.
Believe it or not, all this can be worked out - not to each individual's satisfaction, surely, but nothing ever is. It will be a chore, though, so it's best to draft a vision for it years ahead of time and deal with it gradually.
Also, everyone will have to remember that the main point of sharing services is to reduce the overall costs borne by taxpayers. If there isn't much gain, it's not worth the pain.
We, like many in Lake Placid, can envision an end result that would work better all around than what we have now, but it would take a lot of work, time and willpower, and a certain degree of pain. Good for the Community Development Board for putting it out there.