LAKE GEORGE — The village of Lake George likely will have to go over its tax cap because of spending for its $22 million wastewater treatment plant, as lobbying efforts continue to obtain more state funding for the project.
Mayor Robert Blais is proposing a $5.88 million budget, which would increase the tax rate for the first time in six years. The rate would go up 50 cents, from $5.99 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $6.49. The owner of a home assessed at $250,000 would see their taxes increase by $125 to about $1,622. A tax rate of $6.11 or lower would stay under the cap, according to a news release.
Blais is setting aside $100,000 in this budget to lessen the impact of a $427,000 debt service payment that will be due in full in the 2021-2022 budget year. The budget would appropriate $60,000 from taxes and tap $40,000 from fund balance, according to a news release.
The village is under a consent order from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to replace the 85-year-old plant, because it releases an excessive amount of nitrates, which causes algal blooms in the lake and degrades water quality. The new plant must be operational by August 2021.
“As predicted, our planned new wastewater treatment plant makes this a very difficult budget,” Blais said in a news release. “However, adding the necessary expenses now and over the next three years will soften the blow to our largest taxpayers.”
The spending plan is an increase of about $296,000 from this year’s budget. The tax levy would increase by $120,000, or 8.75 percent, to nearly $1.5 million. The village will be spending $460,000 on health insurance, about the same as this year. The village also must fund a cancer insurance program for volunteer firefighters.
In addition, the budget includes raises for all new employees and an increase in the starting wage to $18 per hour. The village increased the pay because it has had difficulty filling positions. Officials are considering hiring Second Chance NY employees to maintain their restroom facilities due to the lack of seasonal workers available.
All department heads will receive an increase of $2,000 year, which amounts to 3 percent. No raises are budgeted for elected officials.
The village has cut the $70,000 in funding for the Thursday night summer fireworks. Officials are trying to line up business sponsorships. They also have reduced the number of free concerts in Shepard Park.
Blais said the village is saving about $30,000 through its partnership with the town. The town shares the cost of hiring seasonal employees, and the village picks up the cost of maintaining the Route 9 gateway corridor landscaping.
No major equipment purchases are included in the budget, and the village has cut back on the number of peace officers.
The Village Board will hold a budget workshop on Feb. 25 at 10 a.m.
Lobbying for money
Lobbying efforts continue to obtain more state funding for the wastewater treatment plant to lessen the impact on village taxpayers. The village has obtained about $7.5 million in grants.
On Tuesday, EDC Warren County President Edward Bartholomew and Fund for Lake George Director Eric Siy testified before a joint legislative hearing on the Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget.
“There is no single action more important to the environment and economy of Lake George than replacing the wastewater treatment plant,” Siy said in his testimony.
Hundreds of tons of nitrates have been released into the lake since the 1970s through effluent from the plant, he said. These nitrates can lead to the development of harmful algal blooms, which can turn the water green and are toxic to humans.
“They are death to tourism,” he said.
Lake George is the only one of 12 lakes in the state’s algal bloom study that has not yet had an algal bloom. The most recent one was Skaneateles Lake, which is a tourist destination and serves as a drinking water supply for the city of Syracuse.
“We are in the position of preventing an algal bloom in Lake George if we act now,” he said.
“State funding for the Lake George treatment plant is an investment in one of the nation’s natural crown jewels that will deliver returns for generations to come,” he said.
Bartholomew said in his testimony that Lake George without the lake would be like taking Central Park out of New York City or the falls from Niagara Falls. The plant badly needs to be replaced, and without action, the tourism generated by the lake is at risk.
Warren County generates $600 million in tourism spending, supports 9,000 jobs and generates $42 million in local taxes and $33 million in state taxes and nearly $300 million in labor income, he said.
Bartholomew said the village is seeking another $6 million in funding to lessen the impact on the village taxpayers.
Without more funding, the effluent will continue to leach into the lake, he said.
“Failure to address this significant environmental concern will result in, in my opinion, a devastating environmental and economic calamity for the Adirondacks and Warren County,” he said.
Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, pointed out the significance of having an environmental advocate and an economic development official testifying on the same side of an issue.
“This is an issue that everyone across the entire spectrum recognizes (as) a crisis,” he said.
Stec pointed out that the fiscal burden is a challenge for the roughly 1,000 year-round residents. These are not summer homeowners up from the Hamptons.
Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, said the government has included another $2.5 billion in funds for clean water infrastructure.