Carving up the cash cow

All the talk recently of chartering Saranac Lake as a city has got me thinking about what a city is meant to be and if such a thing can not only exist here in the Adirondacks, but actually have a constructive impact.

Much of the controversy revolves around the financial implications: If Saranac Lake becomes a city, the towns of Harrietstown, North Elba, and St. Armand will no longer collect property tax there as they currently do. Also, it leaves the door open for at least some of the sales tax collected in Saranac Lake to be kept within that community.

In a recent meeting of the Saranac Lake Government Restructuring Committee, North Elba supervisor Roby Politi acknowledged his town relies on the revenue generated by property taxes in Saranac Lake, but does little, if anything, to provide services there.

The towns (and counties) in which Saranac Lake is situated clearly rely on Saranac Lake as a so-called profit center, a "cash cow" they have had to share for more than a century.

It just so happens, when the lines were drawn for these counties and towns in the early 1800s, nobody anticipated a bustling village to spring up right on the border. One can only imagine what sort of politicking went on when the village incorporated in 1892.

Taken by itself, Saranac Lake would represent the second largest population center in either Franklin or Essex counties. Asking either county to give up the sales tax revenue they receieve from Saranac Lake would be like asking a tiger to give up red meat. A similar challenge exists in getting the towns to give up their property tax revenue.

To residents of the village, however, this sounds only fair. Why should village residents have to pay town taxes and get virtually nothing in return? Why should the sales tax generated there be split between the two counties?

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