SARANAC LAKE - Village of Saranac Lake and town of Harrietstown officials have been trading emails and letters over the past few weeks on the village's potential annexation of Trudeau Institute.
The village wants the town to sit down and talk about annexation of the nonprofit biotech research center, but the town has told the village to slow down.
"The village is pushing ahead on this too fast," Harrietstown Deputy Supervisor Barry DeFuria wrote in a June 15 email to village Mayor Clyde Rabideau.
The idea of the village annexing the institute's campus at the end of Algonquin Avenue, which is currently just outside the village line, first surfaced in late 2010 when Rabideau revealed that village and Trudeau officials had been working on a plan to locate a 5,000-square-foot biotech business incubator on a 10-acre parcel of Trudeau-owned land bordering Route 3. The village wanted to annex the property, but the proposal was dropped amid Trudeau's strategic planning process, which at the time included the possibility of leaving Saranac Lake.
Trudeau Interim Chief Operating Officer Larry Johnson, in a recent email to Rabideau, DeFuria and members of the village and town boards, said the institute has a "desire to revisit the possibility of institute property becoming annexed to the village."
Why does Trudeau want to be annexed into the village? Johnson declined an interview request Wednesday, but Rabideau outlined the potential "public benefit" of the proposed annexation in a June 13 letter to the town. He said it would save Trudeau $70,000 in annual operating costs, due to the cheaper water and sewer rates the institute would get if it's inside the village. Rabideau also said the village can also put its Community Development office to work for Trudeau if it's inside the village.
"This office stands ready to begin the process of establishing an incubator facility on the Trudeau campus and working with our state and federal governments to build a direct access to Route 3," Rabideau wrote. "Additionally, the village can offer Trudeau full-time, 24/7 police protection and patrol."
Rabideau said annexation would also have intangible benefits, such as fostering "teamwork and goodwill" between the town and village boards as they work together on job retention and economic development.
Involving the town
Trudeau officials hosted a meeting on May 31 to discuss the status of annexation. Rabideau, trustees Barbara Rice and Paul Van Cott and village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans represented the village. Town officials were not there.
"Trudeau wanted to restart the discussions over annexation," Van Cott told the Enterprise. "What they want to do is identify the issues and identify possible solutions to issues, and do this as much as possible before they submit, or before their board decides whether or not to submit, a formal petition."
At the end of the meeting, Rabideau hand-wrote a letter to the town board requesting a meeting to discuss annexation of the institute.
DeFuria responded, saying his board is willing to meet but not until Trudeau officials send the town a letter indicating they're seeking annexation.
"The town believes it is not appropriate to have a meeting about possible annexation of Trudeau Institute's real property without a written request to the town and village by an authorized Institute representative stating that it is seeking annexation," town Attorney James Maher wrote in a June 14 letter to village Attorney Charles Noth.
"They want everything done yesterday, and we don't work that way," DeFuria told the Enterprise this week. "It's making it look like everybody's already decided beforehand that there's going to be an annexation. As far as we're concerned, that's not the case. I can't decide that before I see all the documents and all the reasons for it."
Van Cott said the town is taking a more "conservative" approach, then added, "We won't let that stop us.
"We'll keep working to do what we can to flush out the issues and to help Trudeau figure out whether or not it actually wants to pursue annexation," Van Cott said. "I anticipate at some point the town will join in the process because it's in their interest, as much as it is in the village's interest, to have a strong Trudeau Institute."
"Frankly, this can continue without (the town)," Rabideau said Monday. "It'd be better with them. The only requirement is that we demonstrate the public good for annexation of the Trudeau campus."
If the town board doesn't approve the annexation, state law says the village can apply to the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court for a determination on whether the annexation is in the "overall public interest."
In a June 15 email to village and town officials, Johnson said Trudeau wants to "comply with a process that is acceptable and proper" to both governments.
"Although we would appreciate the opportunity to chat informally with town officials and to gather information from them pertinent to a petition for annexation, we are happy to submit a formal letter to the town board first, indicating our desire to pursue the possibility of annexation," Johnson said.
Campus property issues
Maher's June 14 letter outlines some issues the town believes will need to be addressed, such as whether all or only some of Trudeau's parcels would be proposed for annexation into the village.
Maher said there are eight Trudeau parcels, but several are owned by the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency, which in 1998 issued $7.9 million in bonds to Trudeau to construct an addition to the research center and other buildings. Maher noted that the combined assessed value of the IDA-owned parcels is greater than the parcels owned by the institute.
"The IDA appears to be the owner 'of a majority in assessed valuation' of the area to be annexed, and if the assessed value petition method were used it seems that the IDA would need to be the petitioner," he wrote.
Another complication, Maher said, is that one of the institute's properties doesn't meet the requirement that the area to be annexed must "adjoin" the village. He also said the new boundary created by annexation is supposed to be as regular as possible, but the location of two Trudeau properties on State Street "would create a very irregular town-village boundary in that area."
There was no public notice given for the village's May 31 meeting with Trudeau officials, even though a quorum of board members - three of the five - were present, which is a violation of the state Open Meetings Law.
"Originally there was just two of us: Barbara and myself," Rabideau said. "We were joined later by Paul Van Cott. There was no intent to have a quorum there and no intent to have a vote. For us to listen to Trudeau's plans, I think, was more than appropriate."
"I came into it late, and probably should have thought about it and walked away," Van Cott said. "I don't think there was any intent to circumvent the Open Meetings Law."