What the state drops, communities save - if it means enough to them. That's a pattern we're seeing up here lately.
First it was the towns of Inlet and Indian Lake offering to maintain roads in the Moose River Plains, covering gaps left by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Top DEC officials said Thursday that more of that kind of thing needs to happen, or else more services will go away.
Now there is the apparent saving of the Winter Empire State Games by the village of Lake Placid, the towns of North Elba and Wilmington, the Lake Placid and Wilmington visitors bureaus and the state Olympic Regional Development Authority.
This is a good pattern. It teaches self-reliance and relies on home rule. The Winter Empire State Games have proven popularity with athletes statewide; they bring prestige to our area and profit to our businesses. Our communities have decided they are worth hosting and are putting their money where their mouths are. Good news indeed.
It's not like local taxpayers will pay the whole cost of hosting 1,200 skiers, skaters, hockey players, etc. Adult ESG competitors pay entry fees, and local organizers should consider getting some kind of entry fee from the young athletes and/or their schools, since the backup will now be local rather than statewide taxes. Also, local organizers plan to solicit private sponsors like never before. That's critical. The event brings local businesses an estimated $1 million a year in consumer spending, according to James McKenna, president and CEO of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Lake Placid and Essex County. Those business owners have much to gain from this event's success and can invest some of that in keeping it alive.
This event will still be funded partly by taxpayers, but they'll be local taxpayers with much more control over their investment. Homeowners who don't think the games are worth the money can tell that to their town board members and have much more impact than they would through their state Assemblywoman in the minority party. Our voices are weak in the Albany capitol but strong in the North Elba Town Hall.
A downside is that because the tax funding will be local, it'll rely more on property taxes, which are intrinsically less fair than income and sales taxes - i.e., there are many people whose property becomes valuable but who don't have much income, unless they sell out.
But the local-control pro more than outweighs the property-tax con. If our communities' leaders, elected by us, later decide these games aren't worth it, they can drop or change them, much more quickly and efficiently than the state could.
This local do-it-yourself willpower in the North Country is real. The state we relied on heavily for decades is pulling back, necessarily so, and we're building a post-dependent economy one piece at a time. A team effort in the town of Keene succeeded in giving residents a high-quality broadband Internet network. The citizens of Tupper Lake brought Big Tupper Ski Area back from the grave after 10 long years, and now in their second winter will have the whole mountain open. Saranac Lake groups are working hard to bolster their existing health industry and have their community treat war veterans the way it once treated tuberculosis patients.
Other brave and innovative entities in North Country communities, private and public, will emerge with new ideas. Some will fail, and some will succeed. As small towns, we can support them both as they strive and when they fall. It's an exciting time.
We can't replace everything the state lets go. The former Camp Gabriels prison still sits empty and unwanted. Is the town of Brighton capable of finding a good taker? Maybe, maybe not.
Things come, things go, but more important than reusing a prison is that people care about each other and still be practical, hard-working, humorous and neighborly. And keep trying new things; it seems to be working.