A vote to dissolve Lake George Village and force its assets to be merged with the Town of Lake George will, in all likelihood, be held in September.
A petition calling for a referendum to dissolve the municipality was presented to Village Clerk Debra McKinney on May 12th.
Canada Street business owner Doug Frost, who formerly worked as the village and town code enforcement officer, delivered the petition to the clerk on behalf of 100 or more village residents whose signatures appeared on the document.
For a petition to force a referendum, it must be legally signed by at least ten percent of the village’s registered voters, a threshold the petition appears to meet.
Lake George Village has roughly 600 registered voters, said Mayor Bob Blais.
“I suspect there are enough valid signatures to force a vote and once that’s been established, we will follow the course prescribed by state law,” said Blais.
According to Blais, this is the first time in his fifty-three years as mayor that a petition to force a referendum on the future of Lake George Village has been presented.
State law requires the village to set a date for the vote within 30 days of the village clerk’s determination of the validity of the petition. It must hold the referendum within 90 days of that determination, which in this case means sometime in early September.
The precise date of the vote will be announced by the Village’s Board of Trustees at its June meeting, said Blais.
Blais said a public information meeting will be scheduled for July; one may be held in August as well.
If the proposal to dissolve the village is adopted, Blais said he would seek a state grant to prepare a plan that would specify how employees’ positions would be treated, how residents would receive water, sewer and fire protection services, and how those services would be funded.
Lake George Village has considered dissolution three times since 1978 but the question was never brought to a vote.
In December, 2021, the Board of Trustees voted to submit an application for a $50,000 grant from New York’s Department of State to hire a firm to once again weigh the pros and cons of dissolving the Village and becoming part of the Town.
The Board went so far as to propose a joint Town and Village committee to lead the study and to retain consultants to conduct it.
Three municipal consulting firms submitted bids, and all three presented proposals and qualifications to a gathering of village and town officials in late January. No action was taken on the bids.
At the village’s March 7th meeting, Mayor Blais told board members that he felt it was not a good time to proceed with a reorganizational study, because dissolution of the village, pending or enacted, might have an adverse effect on joint financing agreements with the town to pay for the village’s new $24 million wastewater treatment plant.
The board then passed a resolution to take no action on conducting a study.
Moreover, the Village is in the process of recruiting people to fill three full-time positions. The possibility that Lake George Village could be voted out of existence is surely a disincentive for qualified people to apply for municipal jobs, Blais said.
Lake George Steamboat Company president and Village resident Bill Dow was among the members of the public who spoke at the board meeting where dissolution was discussed. He said he opposed dissolution, in part because residents and the business owners of the Village would remain responsible for its debts, even as its assets are transferred to the town.
According to Mayor Blais, those assets include $4.2 million in annual revenues from parking meters, event fees, sales and occupancy taxes and inter-municipal services.
“We collect more than half the revenues supporting a $6.5 million annual budget from sources other than our taxpayers; that’s unprecedented for a village our size. So it’s understandable that village residents might have some concerns about how those revenues would be used once they’re controlled by the Town,” said Blais.
Other opponents of dissolution have said that village merchants and residents have different concerns and objectives from their counterparts in the town outside the boundaries of the village.
Advocates of dissolution, however, said that a business district entity could fulfill most of those roles provided by the village government, and at a lower cost.
Shortly after Frost delivered the petition to the village office, he said it was unfortunate that the village board decided in March not to go ahead with the dissolution study, as it would have given the public valuable information prior to a vote. “It’s best that the people of the village decide what’s in their best interests,” said Frost.
Mayor Blais acknowledged that some residents may have signed the petition in response to the Board of Trustees’ decision to forego a study of dissolution. But he said others appear to have been motivated by personal grievances against the Village’s current administration.
Photo of Lake George Village courtesy Crown Focus Media.