SARANAC LAKE - Dianna Trummer says high taxes are driving people out of Saranac Lake.
She should know. The Republican candidate for village mayor says she considered leaving her hometown because it's so expensive to live here.
"Economically, the village is killing me," said Trummer, who's making her first run for political office in Tuesday's election. "I just can't afford the taxes anymore, combined with the water and sewer rent."
(Enterprise photo - Chris Knight)
Instead of leaving, Trummer is tackling the village's problems head on by running for mayor.
"It's a make or break, kind of a last-ditch effort to save myself, so to speak," she said.
Trummer called village taxes "burdensome." Currently the help desk technician at North Country Community College, where she's worked for 22 years, she said she had to take on a second job for five years to make ends meet.
"I see all the houses for sale, even on my own street, and when I ask the owners why, they say they just can't afford it anymore," said Trummer, a former executive board member of the Saranac Lake Area Taxpayers Association. "I don't know if lowering the taxes is 100 percent possible, but I'd like to think it is, so that the village of Saranac Lake once again becomes a working man's village."
"It's a great village to be in, there's no doubt about it. I appreciate the police and fire protection, and I get comfort and security from that, but boy, if I can't afford to live here ..."
How could she change that as village mayor? Trummer admits she hasn't gone line by line through the village budget, but she says things could be adjusted.
"I'm not saying people should lose jobs, but I'm sure things could be adjusted and streamlined," she said. "I'd say the first thing you'd have to look to is attrition. If someone's retiring or has resigned, would that position have to be filled? That's the first place I would look."
Trummer said she supports the Roedel family's plan to restore the Hotel Saranac, but she still has a lot of unanswered questions about the proposed 90-room, four-story hotel on Lake Flower.
"My initial thought was, 'That's pretty neat. Let's get something that looks like the old Riverside (hotel),'" she said, "but as I thought more about it, one of my concerns was we have three motels there now that currently pay taxes. I haven't heard of this, but I hope there's no (payment in lieu of taxes) plan for the hotel. I'd like to see them pay the taxes they're supposed to."
The project's developers haven't yet said whether they'll seek a PILOT or any kind of tax breaks for the hotel.
Trummer said she is concerned that the additional traffic from the hotel could create a "hazardous situation" on Lake Flower Avenue, particularly at its already congested intersection with River Street. She also questioned whether the building needs to be 60 feet high, although she said she'd like to see a state Adirondack Park Agency-required visual analysis first.
"I'd like to know what the APA findings are and just how much that would block, because, the visual is everything," she said.
Speaking more generally about the village's economy, Trummer said that if she's elected she would meet with local business owners to see what the village can do to help them.
She said she wants to promote an economy that's "better for the residents, not just a tourist-centered economic situation" and wants to see fewer empty storefronts downtown.
Trummer admitted that trying to recruit new businesses to the village would be "new territory" for her. She said she supports the idea of making Saranac Lake a biotechnology hub but questioned whether the village's luring of Myriad RBM and Active Motif to a pair of village-owned buildings on Main Street was as big a score as it was made out to be.
"I don't know exactly what positives it had for the village other than the workers now working in Saranac Lake versus Lake Placid," she said. "I think a lot of expense went into fixing up those buildings."
The village sandpit off of Will Rogers Drive, which was once sought by Wal-Mart, could still be a prime spot for retail development, Trummer said, although she wouldn't support "something ridiculously large" there. She said she would prefer if new development can be done in "a more Adirondacky feel, but not to the point where it's choking out the possibility of having something."
Trummer says the village needs to do more for young people in the community.
"There's not much offered for teenagers and young adults here," she said. "It would be nice if we could find something. I'm not certain what. I've read a lot of things that are good for that age bracket, like recreation or something that keeps them occupied and not falling to the other side of things."
Trummer mentioned the major drug sweep that took place last fall, when three dozen accused drug dealers, many of them young adults, were arrested across Saranac Lake and Franklin County. She said the community needs to offer more support to those battling addiction.
"That's not something that's gone away (just because of the roundup)," she said. "They say it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a community to get (illegal drugs) out of the village."
One spot that's popular with young people in the community is the village-run Mount Pisgah Ski Center. However, the facility continues to run in the red on an annual basis. Last year, village officials sought bids from outside groups that might be interested in running it, but no one responded.
Trummer said she hopes the village holds onto the ski center.
"I think if we lose Pisgah, that would be a very sad thing for Saranac Lake," she said. "I know it's not a money maker but it's still something for the village residents and others to enjoy. I think we'd have to put some thought into what we could do there to bring in more money, not just in the wintertime but in the off seasons."
A member of the Civil Service Employees Association, Trummer has been a union president at NCCC for 15 years. She said that's given her "a deep appreciation and understanding of team effort as well as the necessity for proper process and procedure.
"These activities have also taught me that listening to all sides allows a person to make better decisions," she said.
Outside of her concerns about rising taxes, Trummer didn't have any harsh words for the man she's challenging, Clyde Rabideau.
"I believe that there needs to be a 'new direction' but not a re-invention of the wheel," she said of village government.
In fact, if elected, Trummer said she said she'd carry on some of the things that started under Rabideau's tenure, such as infrastructure improvements: new sidewalks, water and sewer line replacements and paving of more roads.
In recent years, the village has also taken on a greater role in organizing community events and activities such as downtown movie nights and the Saranac Lake 6er hiking program. Trummer said she'd continue those efforts.
"I don't know what the costs are associated with those, and I don't know how much time and effort has been put into it, but the 6er one seems to be pretty good," she said. "It's promoting the village and it's community, so sure."
Trummer has long had an interest in village government. For years, she would record village board meetings for broadcast on local public access television.
Even if she doesn't win election Tuesday, Trummer said she'll stay involved.
"I think I will get more involved with the village, actually," she said. "My entire life, I've always had some sort of interest in the village. My dad was a village worker. My mom's father was a village manager. My uncle was in the water department. It's second nature. I don't even think twice about it."
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.