North Elba OKs latest round of LEAF grants

LAKE PLACID — The North Elba Town Council unanimously approved six grant recommendations from the Local Enhancement and Advancement Fund Committee on Tuesday, divvying out more than $164,000 to local nonprofit organizations.

LEAF grants, awarded in the spring and fall, are funded by revenue generated by Essex County’s 5% occupancy tax — a tax collected from visitors on all hotel, motel, bed-and-breakfast and short-term vacation rental stays. From this 5% tax, about 3% goes to the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism and 2% goes into a fund that directs money to each of Essex County’s 18 towns. The county also keeps some of the revenue to pay for administrative costs.

The funds are typically used for tourism enhancements, though town Councilor Jason Leon said on Tuesday that the town council takes a wide-ranging, “community-minded” approach to this definition.

“The last two years, the focus of the LEAF grants have substantially shifted from what would be perceived as benefiting only tourists to directed at the community as a whole,” Leon said.

The largest grant, totaling $100,000, is directly connected to this philosophy. The grant was given to the Helping Hands Community Hub — a combined food pantry and thrift shop set to go up next to the Shipman Youth Center. The total cost of the project is estimated to be $750,000, and according to North Elba town Supervisor Derek Doty, $560,000 has been raised by project backers so far.

“It’s within our grasp,” Doty said.

The community hub requested $160,000 in LEAF grants. While the committee did not recommend the full amount, Doty said that fundraising is on track and, should the hub need more funding to put it over the finish line, he will return to the town board to request funds.

Doty said the community hub will serve local families and students here on J-1 visas who constitute the workforce in Lake Placid, enhancing the tourist economy by helping those who keep local businesses running.

Two grants were given to local first responders: one to the Lake Placid Volunteer Ambulance Service and one to the Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department.

The LPVAS requested $4,706 for a $5,700 HoverJack purchase. A HoverJack is a device that helps first responders and caregivers lift patients onto stretchers, making transfers easier and faster. The town council granted the request in full.

The LPVFD requested $8,500 for a $17,139 battery-powered rescue cutter purchase. These tools are often more compact and efficient than their older counterparts. The committee recommended that the request be granted in full on the contingency that the LPVFD produce the other half of the payment before the grant is made. The town council approved the committee’s recommendations.

A $25,000 grant was given to the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College. The AWI is expanding its lab and initially requested $50,000 for new microscopes. With the new equipment, the AWI will be able to identify harmful algal blooms faster — they currently need to send samples out to be tested — and keep people and animals away from confirmed HABs, protecting local bodies of water.

Northern Lights School in Saranac Lake requested $19,999 toward its $500,000 heating system overhaul as it moves away from a kerosene heating system. The town council approved the full amount.

John Brown Lives!, the nonprofit organization that runs programming at the John Brown Farm state historic site, requested a $5,800 grant for a $37,000 project. The project would bring a statue of abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman to the historic site from July to September this year. The committee recommended that the grant be approved in full, as they believe the statue would enhance tourism opportunities in the area, on the contingency that the display remain through September so local schools could bring students to see it. The town council approved the committee’s recommendations.

Some projects that received LEAF grants in the past include the Lake Placid Film Festival, Barkeater Trails Alliance’s improvements to the Jackrabbit Ski Trail and the Lake Placid Central School District’s community schools program.

The 10-member LEAF committee has representatives from both the town of North Elba and the village of Lake Placid, as well as different cross-sections of the community. Its members are Chris Ericson, Jackie Kelly, Catherine Bemis, Andrew Webb, Jen Webb, Dick Cummings, Andrew Milne, Matt Donahue, Mary Jane Lawrence and Jim McKenna. The committee receives funding applications and makes recommendations to the town council on which projects it considers worth funding.


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