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FORT EDWARD — The town has a lot on its plate, and it will all be served up for whomever becomes Fort Edward’s next supervisor.

There’s a nearly vacant industrial complex that used to be the General Electric Co.’s dewatering site for the Hudson River Superfund Site, with owners that have not yet paid taxes to Washington County. There’s a complex of GE buildings coming down on Broadway. There’s Rogers Island, an historic French and Indian War site with an aging visitors center and crumbling budget. There’s a town highway garage, destroyed in a fire, that needs rebuilding.

There are bright spots, too.

New businesses are erecting buildings and filling empty store fronts. The Empire State Trail and Champlain Canalway Trail are getting state attention and moving along. The state Department of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation is assisting with the future of Rogers Island, which officials have mixed feelings about.

With all of the projects and challenges facing the town, current Supervisor Terry Middleton, a Democrat and member of the independent Unity Party, is seeking re-election. He hopes to see to the end the projects he has started.

Middleton is challenged by Lester Losaw Jr., who is concerned about the town’s transparency with the public and the way some of those projects have been handled. Losaw is running under the Republican Party.

Lester Losaw Jr.

Losaw, 68, is the current treasurer for the village of Cambridge. He brings 18 years of municipal financial experience to the table, including in Fort Edward when he worked as the clerk for former Supervisor Merilyn Pulver.

He decided to run for supervisor, because he was concerned about the Town Board’s transparency on the former GE dewatering site and its handling of Rogers Island.

The dewatering site used to be owned by a limited liability corporation called WCC. WCC defaulted on its 2017 and 2018 property taxes, then sued the town for a lower assessment and won. Late last year, it gave the dewatering site to a new nonprofit called the Fort Edward Local Property Development Corp., which is run by a Town Board member, Neal Orsini.

Board members for the new nonprofit came and went; Orsini and Middleton have blamed that on “bad press” in The Post-Star.

“It is very big and very confusing,” Losaw said about the situation during a Post-Star editorial board meeting on Tuesday. “I did not like the formation of the LPDC.”

Losaw was also skeptical about why Town Attorney Don Boyajian would be an acting secretary for the LPDC, and said it’s still not clear if the town paid for his time or someone else to be at some of those meetings.

WCC representatives are still involved, too. WCC is owned by executives of the construction firm D.A. Collins. Those same executives formed another limited liability corporation called Fort Edward Development. They were going to enter into a new agreement with the LPDC, but ultimately it was never signed.

Still, those same players are showing the dewatering site to interested businesses, D.A. Collins is advertising the dewatering site as a real estate opportunity, WCC still owns the property surrounding the dewatering site and Losaw thinks Orsini is “being hoodwinked on this whole deal.”

The LPDC still owes taxes to Washington County, and while Losaw thinks Orsini is doing the best he can, he also says the taxes should be paid. Orsini has said the $400,000 in taxes will be paid, but not yet.

“You can’t just look away,” Losaw said. “Nobody else can do that. Why should they be treated any differently?”

The setup with the LPDC and the town appears to be a “trust me,” approach, Losaw said, and while he trusts Orsini, he’s less confident about Boyajian, Middleton and the leaders of WCC and its various spin-offs.

Losaw said the Middleton administration shows a lack of knowledge about basic budget and government procedures. The town’s 2020 budget, for example, does not include year-to-date spending, nor does it include figures for what was spent in 2018.

Finally, Losaw would like to see the town do something about Rogers Island. The French and Indian War site has a visitors center with a budget that has been cut to the quick.

He doesn’t like that the state Parks Department now has oversight of what can and cannot be dug up, nor that this year’s finds will likely have to be reburied.

“It makes no sense to me,” Losaw said. “There are times when you just have to thumb your nose at people, I think,” he added, referring to the possibility of ignoring the state Parks Department.

While he doesn’t want to see a Fort William Henry-style replica on the site, he does think Rogers Island has potential.

“The problem is, people in their own back yard don’t see it,” he said.

Terry Middleton

Middleton, 59, is a retired regional director for the New York and New England Millwrights. He has been town supervisor for two years and was a Town Board member for 10 years prior to that.

In some ways, Middleton has inherited the tax assessment fiasco at the dewatering site, and he is proud of how things are turning out. He is confident the industrial site will attract business and bring Fort Edward back to the heyday of GE, Scott Paper and other manufacturers.

He got involved with politics because of taxes, he said.

“That was the big thing back then, and I think it’s probably the biggest thing today,” he told members of The Post-Star‘s editorial board this week.

Just weeks ago, things were looking precarious as the town owed Washington County about $360,000 and the town highway garage was deemed a total loss after a May fire.

But during the editorial board meeting, Middleton revealed the town successfully bonded for $350,000, allowing the town to pay its debt to Washington County. The town’s 2020 budget is raising taxes by 0.99%, under the state’s tax cap.

The raise is tiny compared to the approximately 40% increase that could have occurred, if the town had not bonded for the $350,000.

Middleton blames the tax increase that is in the budget to the loss of highway equipment and the garage. The town also had to deal with flooded roads this year, he said.

The editorial board questioned the town’s dealings around the dewatering site, and Middleton defended how it was handled.

“I’m happy the Article 7 is done,” Middleton said, referring to the tax assessment lawsuit with WCC. “I think that was a cloud hanging over the town. There were no winners. ... I think it was the best we could come to. By no means was it good. Everyone had to pay.”

He thinks the LPDC’s new ownership of the property is a good thing, he said, and he hinted it would be sold soon to a private owner.

Asked if the town’s embrace of the dewatering site is a gamble, Middleton said yes, but said he believes it will pay off.

“Because of the uniqueness of the site, I’m confident business will come there,” Middleton said.

Middleton defended the budget cuts at Rogers Island. He thinks Rogers Island is an asset to the town, but pointed to the number of financial difficulties the town is already dealing with, including the replacement of highway equipment.

“The town has no frills, if you will,” he said.

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Reporter Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (518) 742-3238 or gcraig@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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