Lake George Mayor Robert Blais asked Warren County leaders Tuesday to help his village fund its new wastewater treatment plant, saying the village is running out of time, and he wouldn’t commit the village’s taxpayers to pay for the project by themselves.
Saying he would go to jail for his belief that the village shouldn’t have to fund the plant alone, and that being jailed would probably be good publicity for the region, Blais asked that county supervisors come up with $200,000 a year in taxpayer funds for the new plant the state is mandating. The project was to be bonded for 30 years.
He made the pitch to the county board’s Occupancy Tax Coordination Committee, but said the village would take whatever funding it could get from either the 4 percent tax on rooms or sales tax receipts. The committee took no action, but members generally expressed a desire to help the village.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has directed the village to have a new plant running by the end of 2021, but bids at $24 million came in higher than expected earlier this year.
Blais said the lake is a resource used by most people in the region, and draws millions of visitors each year. The annual influx of tourists is why the village needs to replace its sewer plant with one that can handle the wastewater from all of the village’s visitors, as well as state campgrounds outside the village, Blais said.
He said any funding would be welcome, but $200,000 a year would help the village cut its bond payments to an acceptable level.
The village has gotten $7.2 million in grants. There are just under 1,000 permanent residents in the village, and the cost of the new plant, should residents have to bear the entire burden, would be about $26,000 each.
“We just don’t know where the money is going to come from,” Blais said.
Supervisors seemed to agree the county could provide some money to help, but some of them questioned whether that would be a legal use of occupancy tax money.
County law requires the occupancy tax funds be used for tourism-related purposes. Queensbury Supervisor John Strough said the law “clearly” allows spending on infrastructure related to tourism, although Glens Falls 3rd Ward Supervisor Claudia Braymer, a lawyer, had earlier said she questioned the legality of infrastructure funding.
Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty and Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino suggested using sales tax funding the county receives, or a combination of some sales tax and occupancy tax, to help.
“We’ve got to help the village, there’s no doubt about it,” Merlino said.
Queensbury resident Travis Whitehead, a member of the Warren-Washington Counties Industrial Agency, said he believes sewer plant funding is a better use of occupancy tax money to protect the lake than the $60,000 given annually to help with invasive species protection for the lake, although he questioned the legality of both. He also said village leaders should have planned better for the work, since the need was known for years.
“We should not feel sorry for Lake George,” he wrote in an email to supervisors later Tuesday. “Instead, we should feel let down that it has allowed the region’s greatest resource to be polluted with the effluent from its sewer plant for so long.”The Board of Supervisors also gives the coalition that runs Cool Insuring Arena $250,000 a year, and the city of Glens Falls gets more than $600,000 a year in sales tax proceeds to take Queensbury wastewater at the city sewer plant.
The committee passed a resolution to send a letter to state officials requesting more financial help for the village. Bolton Supervisor Ron Conover, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said he will convene a meeting of the full board in the coming months to discuss the issue more fully.
The county took in $4.3 million in occupancy tax last year, and the receipts for 2019 show a 9.2 percent increase for the year so far.