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Harrietstown takes heat over audit, airport

January 14, 2012
By CHRIS KNIGHT - Senior Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - Citing the recent state audit and other issues at the town-run Adirondack Regional Airport, Harrietstown resident Major Day Jr. called for the resignation of town Supervisor Larry Miller and Councilmen Barry DeFuria and Ron Keough at Thursday night's town board meeting.

Day approached the board during the meeting's public comment period.

"Larry, Barry, Ron Keough - resign from this board at the end of the month, all three of you," he said. "There's too much corruption here. You people have been here too long. There should be term limits."

Day said the town should "totally remove itself" from the airport, which he said was "milking the taxpayers."

He spoke just days after the state comptroller's office released an audit that found the town didn't provide effective oversight of the airport's capital projects, couldn't account for more than 4,000 gallons of airplane fuel and overpaid state sales at the airport by more than $160,000.

The findings have no doubt added fuel to the arguments of those in the community who feel the airport has become too much of a burden on the taxpayers and should be shut down. That criticism surfaced again late last year when fluctuations in fuel sales at the airport sparked a double-digit property tax hike for town residents for the second time in three years.

"We don't get anything out of it," Day said. "It's a mess. Get out of the airport business. If you have to give it away, get rid of it."

DeFuria asked what he was being accused of when Day used the word "corruption."

"I'm not accusing you," Day said. "What I'm saying is everybody has turned a blind eye to that airport. There's been no progress at all at that airport."

"That's not true," DeFuria responded.

"We're doing the best we can to make the airport viable and provide revenues and income," Miller said.

"You're out of time," Day shot back. "You've had more than enough time to straighten that mess out. You people could shut that down in a hurry. Get away from it. You're going to break the town."

But Miller said shutting down the airport isn't as easy as it sounds. Town officials have been told by the federal government that the facility would have to operate for 20 years without any federal or state funding before it could be closed. Miller told the Enterprise this week that the town will look at downsizing the airport if the other towns, villages or counties that benefit from it aren't willing to contribute more to its operation or take it over.

"We've decided that we're going to hold a meeting in February, and we're going to get the towns, villages and the two counties together, and we're going to give them an ultimatum," Miller said Thursday night. "They've either got to step up to the plate or we're going to downsize it. We have not done this before."

But Day ended his remarks just as he began them, calling for a change in town leadership.

"It's been the Larry and Barry show long enough," Day said. "And Ron has been on this thing for a long time too. Make room, step aside, let some fresh blood come in here."

Ironically, there was some new blood on the board at Thursday's meeting. It was the first for Councilwoman Nichole Meyette, who won a four-year term on the board in November along with incumbent Bob Bevilacqua.

One other town resident - Joe Spadaro - addressed the board on the same issues Thursday. He thanked the board for its work and said he looked forward to the February meeting and an open dialogue on the airport.

"I know it's not much on each individual's tax bill, but I personally don't think it should be there at all," Spadaro said. "Either the airport pays for itself or we have to do something to get it off the tax rolls."


Airport hires, projects

In other airport-related news, the board agreed to go out to bid for site improvements for a new general aviation terminal. Passero Associates, the town's airport engineering firm, will be accepting bids for construction of a water distribution system, underground utility infrastructure, site grading and other work. Ninety percent of the cost of the work will be paid for using a $400,000 state grant the town received for the project, with the town chipping in the remaining 10 percent.

The board also agreed thursday to spend $1,500 of the $4,000 it had allocated in the airport marketing budget to purchase advertising space in a brochure and set up a banner at next summer's Lake Placid horse shows. The town also voted to spend another $1,500 on marketing Cape Air's commercial passenger service at the airport with the North Country Airport Alliance, a coalition of airport officials from Franklin and St. Lawrence counties.

The board also agreed Thursday to hire two new line service technicians at the airport to fill a pair of vacant positions: Richie Hewitt and Shawn Rohe.



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