Barrett, Politi debate

North Elba supervisor candidates confront each other in informal setting

North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi, right, disagrees with challenger Brian Barrett during a heated moment in an informal, private debate Friday in the Lake Placid News office. Both are on the ballot in Tuesday’s election. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

LAKE PLACID — Brian Barrett, a local defense attorney running for North Elba town supervisor in Tuesday’s election, entered the Lake Placid News office first. He was accompanied by his dog, Daisy II. A few minutes later Roby Politi, the incumbent, arrived wearing a camouflage baseball cap with a large American flag stitched across the front.

The Enterprise and News invited both candidates to meet for an informal, private debate in which they discussed issues such as the town’s vacation rental market, environmental concerns in Mirror Lake and other multiple work projects proposed by Barrett.

North Elba is an economic success story, compared with most Adirondack towns. Some people, however, are left out of that success. Barrett said he’s trying to appeal to the latter.

“Lake Placid is a wonderful, beautiful place to live, but it’s a difficult place to live,” Barrett said.

Barrett said locals are being priced out of the housing market. He understands short-term rentals are popular and many people — including Politi, owner of the Merrill L. Thomas Inc., a local real estate company — have livelihoods in short-term rentals, but he wants to institute a moratorium. It would allow people who currently rent out their properties to keep doing so but wouldn’t allow any more. As soon as a property is sold, short-term rentals would no longer be allowed. The grandfathered houses and apartments would also have to go through safety inspections.

Brian Barrett (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

Politi responded by saying something he has said before: “Lake Placid is a victim of its own success.”

He said Lake Placid’s rental problems are no different than that of cities such as Vail, Colorado, and Park City, Utah.

“There’s always somebody who’s going to be left out,” he said.

Politi said 70 percent of the buyers in Lake Placid are second home buyers, and while that isn’t ideal for the village itself, surrounding towns such as Wilmington, Keene and Jay have profited from new, young homeowners.

In response to Barrett’s safety concerns, Politi said the planning commission has provided both the town and Lake Placid village boards with a permit application system which involves safety inspections.

Roby Politi (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

Although Politi said he disagrees with the moratorium, he and the town board have discussed zoning restrictions on rentals.

“Vacation rentals are not going away. They’re not going away ever,” he said.

Another of Barrett’s objectives would be to consolidate the town and village into one and rename it the town of Lake Placid. He said this would help save money while still embracing the Lake Placid brand.

Politi said he doesn’t disagree with that and thought about consolidation when he was mayor of Lake Placid, but consolidation is not up to North Elba.

“Dissolving the village is an issue for the village,” Politi said. “It’s not our call. It’s the village’s call.”

Barrett said town employees’ wages are not enough to live on in Lake Placid and should be raised.

“The people that work out at the transfer station are starting at 11 bucks an hour, and they don’t get a significant raise for five years,” Barrett said.

Politi said Barrett’s numbers were wrong.

“The starting salary at the town of North Elba is $13, and people get a raise after three years,” Politi said. “Brian’s information is totally incorrect.”

Politi explained how all the people who work for the town of North Elba are represented by unions, which negotiate their wages with the town, and know what they’re getting into.

Barrett also said he would like to create a new community center, which he would call the John and Mary Brown Community Center after the 19th-century abolitionist and his wife, that has indoor sports fields and a track as an alternative for people who struggle to stay active in the winter.

“My dad is 80 years old,” Barrett said. “He loves to get out and walk. He just can’t in the winter.”

He said the community center would also have an indoor pool and a swim lesson program for kids.

“If we give our youths and adults more options, I think it’s going to cut down on some of the drinking and drugging in town,” Barrett said.

He said the facilities would cost millions of dollars but didn’t have specific estimates. He said it could be paid for by privatizing the Craig Wood Golf Course and reworking the town’s deal with the state Olympic Regional Development Authority. He cited how the town’s yearly payment to ORDA had decreased from about $750,000 to $500,000, but he still believes that is too much.

“I don’t think we should be spending up to $600,000 a year on Craig Wood Golf Course,” Barrett said “We should sell it or lease it out.”

That $600,000 budget item doesn’t include the golf course’s revenue. Politi said the goal is to break even, but it usually loses some money. This past year was a particularly bad one, he said, and the net loss was about $100,000.

But regardless of that, Politi said the golf course — as well as the airport, ski jumps and toboggan slide — is North Elba Park District property, and the town can’t sell it without an act of the state Legislature.

Politi was not enthusiastic about the community center proposal. He said he walks around the Olympic Center rink when the weather isn’t the best and sees plenty of other people doing the same.

He addressed how consistently exceeding New York state tax caps, which he thinks building the center would require, would not be good for the community.

“We’d love to have everything,” Politi said, “but you can’t spend on everything.”

Politi explained there is a North Elba swim program all ready in place.

“We have a very vibrant town of North Elba youth program, and over 100 kids are in it,” Politi said. “I don’t know why Brian would think there’s no swimming lessons.”

Politi said a main focus for him, if elected again, is Mirror Lake.

“Mirror Lake is suffering from a very high amount of road salt,” Politi said, “It’s 160 times of what should be the case of chloride and sodium.”

Politi said the high levels are a result of New York state road crews and parking lot salting nearby.

“It’s affecting probably one of the most important resources that this community has,” Politi said.

Politi said he is currently working with the AuSable River Association and the Mirror Lake Watershed Association to fix the problem. The town will soon set up salt-free zones around Mirror Lake.

“This is Lake Placid,” Politi said. “It’s supposed to be a winter paradise. If everything is bare, it means you’re putting salt on it. If you’re putting salt on it, it means it’s ending up in the lake.”

The exchange got heated at times, such as when Barrett said town board members disregard his and other locals’ ideas.

“We’ve never blown anybody off in coming to the town,” Politi said. “That has never happened.”

“You’ve blown me off, Roby,” Barrett said.

“I haven’t seen you at a town board meeting in 10 years,” Politi said.

He also mentioned how he hasn’t debated prior to Friday because of Barrett’s “nasty” and “crass” language on social media.

When it came time to wrap things up, the candidates were asked why they think they should be supervisor.

“I consider the community my partner going forward if I am chosen to represent North Elba,” Barrett said.

“I consider North Elba my home. Everything I do is for this community,” Politi said.

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