Two running for Tupper Lake mayor

Village mayor, town councilwoman to both vie for seat at June 19 GOP caucus

TUPPER LAKE — There are two candidates, so far, who have announced their candidacy for village mayor in Tupper Lake this election season.

Mayor Paul Maroun is seeking his seventh and potentially his last term in the local office. Current town Councilwoman Mary Fontana is looking to bring a change to the village after years in town government.

Fontana has independently filed to run on the “Integrity” party line, so she will be on the ballot Nov. 7. Both Fontana and Maroun will be seeking the Republican nomination at its June 19 caucus. The Enterprise was not able to confirm dates for the Conservative or Democratic caucus, or confirm that they are happening this year by publication of this article.

More candidates could try to get into the race at these caucuses, but right now only these two have announced.

Maroun is asking voters to keep him in office for another two years because he says the village has come a long way in his 13 years as mayor. And there are several things he wants to see through — the finishing of the Oval Wood Dish redevelopment into an apartment and commercial hub, now that the project has the green light; keeping the Riverpigs baseball team playing at the municipal ballpark, which he said is a big boon for the town; and finally fixing the long-standing and ongoing water quality issues, which he said the village is making slow but steady progress on.

Fontana also said the town has seen a lot of growth in her eight years on the council, and that she herself has been shaped into who she is politically by getting to know the “inner workings of Tupper Lake,” in large part because of the mentors — “veterans of politics” — she worked with.

She was the interim town supervisor for many months last year, but she said it was an unfortunate tragedy that brought her there.

Clint Hollingsworth, who was elected as the town supervisor in November 2021, died from cancer in February 2022, leaving “some pretty big shoes to fill,” she said.

“This community was robbed of a really great leader,” Fontana said.

She did not run for the supervisor position last November, and Rick Dattola took the seat. She said there has been town growth under her leadership, with a five-year plan for the town departments, improvements to its facilities and a budget below the tax cap.

She clarified that she’s not taking credit for all that, but she was part of it and she’s proud of what the town has done in her time on the board. Fontana said she is comfortable walking away from the town council knowing it’s in great hands to pursue her goal of taking on village issues.

“Paul has been an altruistic and patient leader, but I think this community is ready for a change in pace, attitude and direction,” Fontana wrote in a message to the Enterprise.

Maroun doesn’t see a reason to change leadership. He said he’s got a lot going on in the village that he wants to see continuing. Times are tough for local governments, and he feels he’s doing the best he can for the community by putting in lots of hours and using every contact he has to help the village.

Maroun said the village board has more on its plate than the town does.

“I think that there are members of the current village board that maybe don’t have a good pulse on the political climate of today,” Fontana said. “Whether you look at it nationally, regionally or even down on the smaller level.”

She said it is a difficult time in politics and people want transparency and change.

“I think I bring a different attitude, a different perspective,” Fontana said. “The politics of today are not the politics of 10, 15, 20 years ago. People really want to know what you’re doing with their tax dollars. They want to see the village taking steps to propel us 20 years into the future instead of focusing on problems of a decade ago.”

Maroun said Fontana is a good friend of his, he has nothing against her and that she is a really nice person. But, “she will have some issues on the board, too,” he added.

He didn’t want to get into all of them yet, saying he hasn’t even gotten on the ballot at a caucus yet. But he did mention that she works at the insurance agency the village hires, which he feels could be a conflict that would prevent her from discussing many things.

Fontana said she is currently listed as the local contact for the village’s account with OneGroup Insurance but does not receive commission on that account. She said, if elected, she would resign herself from being the producer on that policy and unlist herself as the contact.

Fontana said that in the past two years she feels the town has developed a closer relationship with the village than the two governments had previously. Still, she said her desire to run stemmed from the conversations she had with the village over the police contract the town had with the village, which allowed village police to respond to incidents inside the town but outside of village boundaries. These conversations were heated at times, with harsh words and raised voices.

“Tensions were high,” she said, and not productive. “I think it was really eye-opening, the lack of communication between the two boards.”

In the end, the contract expired without any deal being struck, and village police have not been able to respond to calls in the town — except in special circumstances — since the start of 2023.

Finances and water

Fontana said the biggest issues in the village right now are finances and water, which are also tied together.

In recent years, the village budget has gone over the state tax cap as there have been increasing expenses without increasing tax revenue. The village reduced its budget this year by cutting three vacant police officer positions. Maroun said this should help cushion the budget in future years.

Fontana feels the village needs a more “conservative” leadership, financially. If elected, she plans to look at its expenses and see what they can do to “control the bleeding.”

The village offers a “significant amount of service, wonderful service,” she said.

“You have water, sewer, garbage removal, Department of Public Works, fire, police department. You name it, the village offers it,” Fontana said.

But the costs of those services will always grow, she added, and the tax base is not growing, which she called “alarming.” The village has been successful at getting grants, she acknowledged, but she felt the solution is not to “subsidize” the budget from other places.

Fontana also said the village board should trust its department heads as subject matter experts, which she felt hasn’t been done recently.

“Village department heads are capable and qualified to lead their crews successfully without unnecessary political oversight and interference,” Fontana wrote.

The village has had a long road with many setbacks on its water issue. Last week, around 30 people showed up to decry the discolored water and ask the village to take action. Maroun said that currently, the village is looking at moving back to drawing water from the lakes instead of the wells it has dug in recent years. This will take more than $10 million, he said, and the village has $5 million from state grants right now.

Fontana said the village has been making steps, but it doesn’t look like it, and it needs better communication. She said the village needs to be communicating where they are in the process, and said she would likely do more with social media if elected.

If elected, she said she would bring a change in attitude, take villager concerns seriously and protect their tax dollars. Fontana said she doesn’t have all the answers, but knows the problems the village faces and hopes her perspective, attitude ambition can propel it forward.

“Tupper Lake is in a good position,” Maroun said. “People in Tupper Lake are living good for the most part.”

The Downtown Revitalization Initiative — a $10 million state grant the village got in 2021 — is moving along with projects around the village. He said the electric department is in “perfect shape.” It recently had its first rate increase in eight years, which he said was needed to raise salaries to keep the department from losing people to National Grid.

In 2021, Maroun won reelection to his current term, but faced a very close race. Eric Shaheen — who is now a village trustee — came within 16 votes of unseating Maroun.

The Republican caucus on June 19 will be held at the emergency services building at 21 Santa Clara Ave. at 6 p.m.

Dattola, who has been the Conservative Party chair, said he is stepping back from that role now that he is the town supervisor. He said other party members may organize a caucus, but he had not heard of any plans so far.

John Quinn, who was the “ad hoc” chair of the Tupper Lake Democratic Party last year, said he took on that role to get John Gillis elected to the town board since the Democratic party is largely “unorganized” in Tupper Lake as of late. He said he hadn’t heard of any plans for a caucus this year yet.

Caucuses can be held until July 27 and must be announced at least 10 days ahead of time.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the last date caucuses can be held on. Caucuses can be held until July 27 and must be announced at least 10 days ahead of time. The Enterprise regrets the error.


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