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North Elba votes to establish new cannabis grants

SARANAC LAKE — The North Elba Town Council passed a cannabis tax revenue policy on Tuesday that will earmark funds for local youth, elderly community members and law enforcement as well as the town’s general fund.

The board also passed a cash management policy and discussed granting paid holidays to full-time seasonal town employees and sponsoring the Lake Placid Center for the Arts for a renovation grant.

The town’s cannabis revenue policy comes after several months of discussion. Following the opening of the Elevate ADK dispensary on the North Elba side of the village of Saranac Lake last fall, North Elba now receives significant revenue through New York state’s excise tax on cannabis sales. North Elba receives 50% of Elevate’s local taxes; the other half goes to Saranac Lake. As of Wednesday, the town has received $61,586.80 in cannabis tax revenue for 2024.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the final policy was approved unanimously by the board. Under the new policy, funds will be disbursed through a new grant program based on several priorities: community programming for school-age children, public safety and law enforcement and support for aging community members.

If cannabis revenue continues to rise, some funds may go into the town’s general fund. The policy states that, at the end of a “rolling 12-month period,” if the fund’s balance is more than 75% of the total revenue from the previous 12 months, then the remainder of the funds — that is, anything over that 75% — will be transferred to the general fund.

Awards will be limited to $5,000 each, though the policy leaves room for “consideration for larger amounts with matching funding by the applicant.” Nonprofit and groups or projects affiliated with nonprofits are eligible for these funds.

Community Development Director Haley Breen will oversee applications to the new grant program, but the town council will be responsible for approving or denying the applications. The cannabis tax revenue grants will be fewer both in number and monetary amounts than North Elba’s Local Enhancement and Advancement Funds, as LEAF receives much more revenue annually. The cannabis tax will also be available to projects that do not go back into community and tourism enhancement, a specification of LEAF funds that leaves some projects ineligible.

Cash policy

The town board unanimously approved a cash management policy that’s been piloted in the town hall for around two months. Town Supervisor Derek Doty said that the main intention of this policy was to put on paper what’s already been going on in practice, something that’ll make town financial procedures more watertight.

“I’m proud of the system we’ve had for years, but we better defined it now, and over the last few years we’ve actually brought back a few policies and updated them,” Doty said. “It solidifies better justification for everything we do.”

Cash typically flows through four areas in the town, Budget Officer Catherine Edman said. In the town hall, it goes through town Clerk Laurie Dudley’s office. Other town-operated venues have significant cash flow, too: the North Elba Town Transfer Station, Craig Wood Golf Club and the Lake Placid Toboggan Chute.

“It just seems prudent in today’s world — especially with the state Comptroller’s office doing more in-depth reviews of municipalities and how they handle their books — to have a policy that is formally approved and written down,” Edman said. “Overall, the intent is just to document what is currently happening in the town for cash that comes into our coffers and gets deposited into our banks.”

Edman added that one of the biggest changes under this new policy is the requirement for Dudley’s office to deposit any cash it takes in daily rather than every 72 hours.

Councilor Rick Preston said that this policy will “assure accountability” between the people in the town responsible for collecting and depositing cash and those who do the town’s reconciliations, ensuring that discrepancies between the town’s books and its bank accounts are rare.

ARPA funds

The board also informally approved Doty’s designation of American Rescue Plan funds for a new security camera in the North Elba Town Hall. The new camera will cover an area in the town hall that currently exists as a blind spot between security cameras.

Doty also suggested that the town council consider using ARPA funds in the future to install security cameras at the Mirror Lake Public Beach to reduce the town’s liability regarding unattended swim docks. He said cameras would also be helpful in instances where lifeguards are harassed by beachgoers, incidents which have been reported more and more often.

“Individuals here that are on a team that’s visiting were giving the lifeguards a hard time at the beach, and one of the moms came out of nowhere and was climbing the ladder to the lifeguard — to the head lifeguard — to give her a hard time. I want to know when our lifeguards go through that kind of heckling so that, if we need to trace down people, we can take care of it,” Doty said.

Board members agreed with Doty that, in such instances, cameras would be helpful. They suggested that the board run the idea by their legal counsel first before taking action, though.

LPCA grant

After putting out a call on its Facebook page on June 27 for project proposals for the 2024 Capital Improvements Grants for Pro-Housing Communities program, the town council received only one project proposal: the LPCA’s ongoing facility renovation. According to a timeline on the LPCA’s website, construction should begin in the fall of 2025 and be finished by the summer of 2027. The project received a $7.5 million grant from the New York State Council on the Arts’ capital projects fund last summer.

The 2024 capital improvements grant is one of the several financial opportunities open exclusively to designated Pro-Housing Communities. North Elba is one of 75 communities in the state that is currently a certified Pro-Housing Community; Statewide, 252 communities have submitted letters of intent. The funding for this particular grant is through Empire State Development and is intended for projects that “enhance public infrastructure, create or preserve affordable housing and improve community facilities.”

Doty said that LPCA’s renovation will have a significant impact on both North Elba and Lake Placid.

Adding benefits

The board discussed adding benefits to seasonal, full-time employment with the town as a way to retain seasonal employees year-to-year. Retention is a “challenge,” Doty said.

“Quite typically, the benefits that seasonal, full-time (employees) enjoy is virtually none. One area that I thought would help us retain them (is) … holiday compensation,” he said.

Currently, during summer holidays — Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Independence Day and Labor Day — the town’s year-round, full-time employees get a paid holiday while seasonal, full-time employees are forced to choose between losing a day’s wages to take the day off or working on the holiday for no additional compensation. Sometimes, the seasonal employees will be one of the only employees working at their job that day, if not the only person.

“They’re left to work alone with no supervision,” Doty said. “I don’t agree with that. … When they’re off for a holiday, I think they should be treated just like the rest of us.”

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