State of the village

Mayor Mary Fontana lists top priorities for Tupper Lake

Tupper Lake Village Mayor Mary Fontana, right, smiles with town of Tupper Lake Recreation Director Laura LaBarge at Tupper Lake’s BrewSki on Saturday, Feb. 24. (Enterprise photo — Oliver Reil)

TUPPER LAKE — Heading into the third month of 2024, the village of Tupper Lake has big issues to tackle, and Mayor Mary Fontana Friday revealed the village board’s top priorities for the year and a plan to set up its future for prosperity.

“What’s in the forefront of our minds is the water issues,” she said.

The village has long been working to build a new water treatment plant to process water from Tupper Lake, which would allow them to switch back from the groundwater well system they adopted five years ago. The ground well system has brought concern to village residents, who for the past few years have complained of brown and yellow water coming from their taps — a result of iron in the ground mixing with the water — and voicing their concerns about unsafe drinking water.

Fontana said one of the biggest barriers to moving forward is a web of red tape, a result of multiple state and federal agencies — such as the state Department of Health, state Department of State, Adirondack Park Agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — having a hand in monitoring projects like the treatment plant to keep the village accountable.

Public opinion, Fontana said, is that the water issue is a crisis. To the state, it is not. The village is trying to expedite the process, but is not willing to cut corners, she said.

The village needs to meet health standards for water quality, and the facility itself must meet design requirements. All these agencies, she said, are interwoven. The challenge is lining every requirement up with each agency.

“That’s the spider’s web we have to navigate through,” she said. “As you pull one string, it tightens the knot on the other side.”

The village Municipal Water/Wastewater Department is planning another microfiltration pilot, this time using a granulated activated carbon filter in conjunction with microfiltration at the recommendation of the DOH.

Another challenge has been securing funding for the project, the cost estimate for which is currently between $8.4 to $9 million. A $2.46 million DOH grant secured in January brings the total money earmarked for the project to around $7.46 million, adding to a $4.8 million grant from the state’s Water Infrastructure Improvement Assistance fund and another $200,000 from the DOH. The village needs around $1 million more.


Fontana said the lack of a fully staffed village police department is another main concern.

“We are absolutely understaffed,” she said.

Municipalities face many problems with their police departments; the village has a lack of candidates, she said. This is largely due to the infrequency of civil service exams, which are only offered once or twice a year, she said. The village currently has seven full-time officers on patrol.

“We have incredible police officers,” Fontana said. “We need to do a better job being a competitive employer, which we need to balance with the burden on the tax base.”

Currently, the State Police are helping to subsidize the village’s lack of officers and patrol time. The public’s desire and ultimate goal of the village, she said, is for the village police department to have 24-hour coverage of Tupper Lake.

“Making that a reality is a very difficult thing to do with the resources available,” she said.

Strategic plan

Last month, Fontana tagged along with village department heads to explore what their day-to-day looks like and to identify where the village’s true assets and infrastructure lie. This exploration led the mayor to the idea for a “strategic plan for the future,” which would aim to detail infrastructure projects for years to come, she said.

The five-year plan would aim to address department target areas that have been put on the back burner, and would have department heads create “hit lists” of problems to be addressed.

Fontana’s long-term hope is to create clearly defined goals for the village, in turn maintaining momentum that can be carried on by future village boards.

“Developing a strategic plan is what most agencies and most companies do to meet their goals,” she said. “While a municipality is not a business, having a plan helps keep you focused.”

Infrastructure, she said, is just as important as beautification.

“I want to see this community thrive in 30 years,” she said. “Making sure we take care of the bones and the foundation is just as important as the aesthetics.”


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