MALONE - The Franklin County Board of Legislators committed $25,000 to a Saranac Lake tourism effort.
Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce officials, along with Harrietstown town and Saranac Lake village representatives, asked the county in November to help support its plan to use the Essex County Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism for tourism marketing of Saranac Lake. It's something the chamber used to try to do, but the chamber is shifting its focus and hopes to pay ROOST to take over those responsibilities.
All but one Franklin County legislator present Thursday voted in favor of giving Saranac Lake a portion of the $85,000 ROOST wants for the program annually.
Saranac Lake's representative on the board, Democrat Tim Burpoe, said the chamber was hoping for a three-year commitment on the funding, but the county will only approve the spending year to year, so it's not committing future boards.
Burpoe said the money is an investment in Saranac Lake that will have a measurable impact.
"It's an opportunity to start something that they've spent well over a year exploring," Burpoe said.
Legislator Guy "Tim" Smith, D-Fort Covington, noted that Paul Maroun, Tupper Lake's representative on the board who wasn't at Thursday meeting, was concerned when the topic was last discussed that his town was being left out of the program. Saranac Lake area officials told Maroun at that meeting that the idea was to start the program small, get it established, then expand it, possibly including Tupper Lake in the future.
Burpoe said that if Maroun came to him with a plan like this for Tupper Lake, he'd be the first one to support such an initiative.
Legislator David "Billy" Jones, D-Chateaugay, said that even if the program is only focusing on Saranac Lake, increased tourism there would have county-wide benefits, both directly and indirectly.
"It doesn't just benefit one area," Jones said. "It benefits us all if we bring more tourism to Franklin County.
"I would vote yes for this, because we have to start looking at reinvesting our money in our tourism programs and our tourism infrastructure."
Legislator Marc "Tim" Lashomb, R-Malone, said the county has to look to the future with tourism. He said that tourism marketing efforts usually bring back $30 to $35 for every $1 spent. Even with a 25-to-1 return on investment ratio, that would mean the county will spend in the end only $5,000, Lashomb said.
As state and federal aid dries up and more of the county budget has to be paid through taxes, legislators and other county officials have repeatedly said that the best way to keep taxes from increasing too much is to encourage more people to move to the county and to visit and spend sales tax dollars here.
The county allocated an extra $50,000 in its tourism budget for 2013 that hadn't been dedicated to a specific initiative yet, though several ideas were floated through the budget process. Half of that will be put toward the Saranac Lake program, and the other half has yet to be allocated.
Smith was the only vote against the spending. He said Franklin County should be using its own tourism agency for such initiatives. He said he doesn't want a flood of other groups coming in looking to do marketing for portions of the county.
"I'm a little leery on that," Smith said.
"Competition is good," Jones responded.
Harrietstown provides nearly a quarter of the county's budget, far more than any of the other 18 towns in the county, and the five towns of the south end of the county will pay for 63 percent of the budget in 2013. But initiatives on the south end that require spending are often difficult to pass through the Board of Legislators, since only two people on the seven-person board represent this side of the county.
"That was a big leap for these guys," Burpoe told the Enterprise after the vote.
Harrietstown town Councilman Ron Keough said Monday that Franklin County's commitment to the spending is "very, very good news."
"I just think it's a very positive step forward to marketing the Saranac Lake regional area," including the towns around and the town airport, Keough said.
He said that in the long term, he sees the return on investment growing to be much higher than projected.
Harrietstown has committed $20,000 to the project, and a private group of individuals will raise another $20,000. The chamber is asking the village of Saranac Lake to contribute $20,000 as well, which would have to be included in the village's 2013-14 budget. That won't be approved until the spring.
"It really is a true partnership that straddles two counties and three towns," Burpoe said. "It's pretty neat."