To the village of Saranac Lake, I respectfully submit the 2013 State of the Village Report.
It contains five parts: "Our report card for 2012," "Issues and challenges - where we are today," and a three-part "Plans and goals for 2013." This first part is published this day, with the others following in a series, all courtesy of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, as a public service, for which we offer our sincere thanks.
The development of this report was a collaborative effort from all our village board members. The trustees - Tom Catillaz, Allie Pelletieri, Barbara Rice and Paul Van Cott - are tremendous colleagues, and I rely upon them greatly each day. As a village board, we work well as a team, and I look forward to a very productive year.
Last January, we again proposed an aggressive plan, our "2012 goals and initiatives." Here is our report card with a self-given letter grade for performance and information after each subject for your review and consideration. Please feel free to respond with your own grading and commentary.
Job growth and retention
-Place biotech Myriad RBM in downtown: A. We successfully placed the biotech firm Myriad RBM, and 35 private-sector employees, into newly renovated accommodations in the former village office building.
-Place biotech Active Motif in downtown: A. A few months after placing Myriad RBM in our downtown, we placed the biotech firm Active Motif and nine other private-sector employees into newly renovated accommodations into the nearby village water building.
-Leverage the Saranac Lake Local Development Corporation: B. This hard-working group of volunteers, trustees and village staff met many times in 2012 and diligently put together an operating plan and a set of specific goals to accomplish in 2013. The SLLDC will focus its efforts on tourism development, job creation, housing and downtown promotion. The SLLDC is now finalizing its annual report, which will state its goals for 2013 and will be released soon.
-Promote local events, enhance tourism: A. There is no single organization in Saranac Lake now equipped and staffed to promote all the special events we have in our community or tourism. However, collective efforts by volunteers, organizations and village administration and staff has filled the gaps on many fronts in the past year, including assisting the Winter Carnival Committee, the Can-Am Rugby group, the downtown merchants and Women's Civic Chamber in their local event endeavors. A Tourism Council comprised of volunteers and representatives from the chamber of commerce, Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism and local municipalities emerged as a forum for event coordination. With respect to tourism, village trustees Rice and Van Cott worked with the group to develop a regional approach for tourism marketing of the village beginning in 2013.
-Help Homeward Bound Adirondacks: C. Homeward Bound Adirondacks went through a challenging year but eventually found a home on Franklin Avenue and hired three staff members. It also put together a dynamic team which is poised to pursue its goal of reintegrating veterans into civilian stateside society. We ardently support their cause and wish them well in the years ahead.
-Other achievements: The village of Saranac Lake won the top prize for economic development from the New York Conference of Mayors' Local Government Achievement Awards program for creating its "bio-cluster" in the community, which includes Myriad RBM, Active Motif, Bionique and the anchor, Trudeau Institute.
Strategic growth initiatives
-Complete comprehensive plan update: A+. A diverse group of committee members, with the support of village staff, forged consensus on a comprehensive plan update in weekly meetings throughout most of 2012. The basis of the plan was public comment, and the committee held public hearings on the plan and presented a draft to the village board at the end of 2012. It is anticipated that a final draft of the plan will be brought to the village board for formal review and a public hearing early in 2013.
-Complete annexation of American Management Association: A-. AMA recently submitted its petition to annex its 68-acre campus into the village. The village will hold a joint public hearing on the petition with the town of St. Armand on the evening of Jan. 23. The town board and village board will then each vote on whether the annexation is in the best public interest, which AMA has profoundly demonstrated in its petition.
-Trudeau Institute annexation: I (incomplete). Trudeau Institute met with the village to discuss annexation into the village as a way to reduce operating costs, obtain police services and take advantage of our economic development strengths. We remain committed to helping Trudeau Institute in any way we can.
-Retail expansion: C+. The Community Store, which opened at the end of 2011, enjoyed nationwide fanfare in 2012. Taylor Rental and Fastenal also joined our retail ranks. Occupancy and rent among downtown storefronts remained average.
-Market sand pit for retail: C+. The village was approached a number of times in 2012 by developers wanting to purchase the sand pit lands and construct retail space, despite the fact that this land is a "back lot" and not easily visible or accessible to Route 86. The village board has not seriously engaged with any of the prospective purchasers, remaining committed to maximizing the value and use of the parcel since it is one of very few large parcels available for commercial development in the village. Removing and grading the large berm along the land's western boundary that visually separates the parcel will substantially improve the property's value. At current usage rates for the sand from the pit, it is projected that the berm will be removed in several years. To pay for removal of the berm now would cost more than $300,000, which would lessen the return from the sale of the property. The village board also engaged a consultant to develop conceptual plans for mixed use development on the parcel to share with prospective purchasers.
-Leverage LDC for added retail: C+. As noted above, the Saranac Lake Local Development Corporation worked very hard in 2012 to firm up its legal and operating base and to define its specific goals for 2013. Among those goals, we hope there will be a focus at marketing our various vacant parcels for retail development.
Youth and recreation
-Complete conversion of former landfill to athletic fields: D. This was not a funded activity for 2012, and staff time was focused on completing the water, sidewalk and biotech projects through much of the year. However, we did recently win a grant for planning this project that we had applied for jointly with the town of North Elba. In addition, we have been and continue to explore another possible option for new athletic fields.
-Personnel freeze - create no new positions: C. We created a full-time parks director/superintendent position which included oversight of Mount Pisgah. The value of this new position offsets the failure to meet this goal. This new position will be critical to the village's recreational trail development, signage and way-finding goals, as well as coordination of park use for event purposes.
-Institute part-time police officer positions: D. We requested permission to hire a part-time police officer without civil service testing, as is done in Essex County, but were denied by Franklin County due to its rules. This effort will be fully addressed in 2013.
-Maintain tax cap: A+. For the third straight year, the village board adopted a property tax increase at or below 2 percent, which is incredibly challenging in the face of unfunded state mandates and the cost of living outpacing the 2 percent threshold and will become more so in the years ahead. The board also established a Finance Committee which has met regularly throughout the year and was tasked with development of a budget for 2013-14 that will comply with the tax cap. Meeting this goal will be challenging, due to rising costs, and will require tough policy decisions by the village board.
-Initiate online bill paying: F. No action was taken on this initiative.
-Initiate "Rebuild Saranac Lake" bond project to repair and replace village sidewalks: A. We completed 90 percent of this large-scale project in 2012 and will finish the remainder in the spring of 2013.
-Complete $13 million water supply and distribution project: A. This massive new system is now online and operational, supplying fresh, clean water from an underground aquifer that is so pristine that no treatment is required, and will last for many generations into the future.
-Start planning for new fire station, public safety building: B. We conducted an engineering evaluation and cost assessment of the current fire station and police station, and looked at many options for consolidation and placement. The costs of the options identified are extraordinary. This is a big issue for Saranac Lake. The police will need to move to allow Myriad-RBM to expand. The fire department needs a new facility. We are working hard to try and find a cost-effective solution that will, at the same time, support the community's economic and local development goals. We have been consulting with the governor's office and top agency officials to explore options. The support of the governor and his top staff is very much appreciated.
-Assess streets for repair/rebuild: B+. This assessment is ongoing as we replaced and repaved a significant portion of village streets after the water system installation in 2012.
-Institute multi-municipal composting system: I. This project was canceled after the New York Power Authority, which expressed interest in funding it, pulled out.