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Lake George mayor opposed to village dissolution, vote set for Tuesday

Lake George Village Mayor Bob Blais
Lucas Willard
Lake George Village Mayor Bob Blais

Voters in Lake George will go to the polls on Tuesday to decide the fate of the village.

Although the idea of village dissolution has been discussed in the past, the upcoming referendum is the first time the matter has gone before voters.

The ballot question comes after a voter-led petition was submitted earlier this year.

I spoke with Lake George Mayor Bob Blais about the upcoming special election. The 86-year-old mayor is opposed to dissolving the village he’s led for five decades.

For me, Lucas, having been mayor for the past 52 years of this great community, that the study found was extremely successful, it gets a little emotional when people tell me that they want to dissolve the village that I was mayor of. So obviously, I'm totally against it.

Tonight, on the eve the special election, the last in a series of public hearings will be held on a recently completed dissolution process study, a report that details potential impacts for both village and Town of Lake George residents.

Blais encourages community members to attend.

Yeah, absolutely. The reason we're having that meeting the night before the election is because the ones we had this week, I think we're impacted by the car show, folks…where a lot of people don't want to get out and have no place to park and so forth. So, if you haven't made up your mind, probably that would be a good time, the night before the vote and it’s at the Lake George High School so there's plenty of room, comfortable seats, and you can ask questions. So yes, I'm encouraging...This is an extremely important vote for the future of Lake George.

Blais describes the sharing of services between the Village and Town of Lake George as “unparalleled.”

The study on dissolution predicted village taxpayers could see an initial tax savings between 27 and 33 percent, but Blais cautions nothing is guaranteed after dissolution.

The village board recently approved a plan to move $3 million from a parking meter savings account into next year’s budget – which the mayor says could reduce next year’s taxes by 35 percent.

Meantime, dissolution supporters say village residents are not benefitting from economic growth within the Town of Lake George and that they deserve a say in the future of the future.

I asked the mayor if he believed residents are well-enough informed on dissolution.

I think that a sufficient number of them, that took time to come to the forums and read it, read in the news media …Bill Dow, the president of the Lake George Steamboat Company, one of the largest taxpayers in the village has a letter right now on Facebook, which is getting a lot of attention, he's opposed to dissolution. I think that the folks that have lived here for the longest period of time know the value of living in Lake George.

We haven't raised taxes in 10 years, which is remarkable. We share every service that we have, which is another reason for dissolution – the report states that they haven't, they never studied a village and town that share that many services. We've got a lot of money in reserve funds. And we're using money from our parking meters now to lower the village tax rate 35 percent.

So, we've done, the village board, our employees have done everything we can to make the quality of life in Lake George Village great. People love coming here. We're a destination. We're extremely popular with the media and with vacationers. And I just think it’s plain wrong to do away with a community that's so popular and has done such a great job.

Do you think that the services that the village currently offers – I know it shares a lot of services with the town – do you think that those could be operated [at] as high a level if the village itself were dissolved or absorbed by the town, so to speak?

The plan is to offer the village employees, you know, a position because our employees do a tremendous amount of different work than the town employees. You know, we do several special events closing the roads, we own a stage that needs to be put up and take down. We operate Wood Park, the festival space. No, I don't see how it could possibly remain at the same level.

You've got four trustees right now living in the village. And they're familiar with everything. A person that wins the nod for mayor will be someone that has lived here for a while that’s very familiar with everything, and is in touch with everything. If they're if they're all gone, you've got five less people watching the village taking care of the village, making sure that the village is run well. And you might have five people that aren't even on the town board right now, that don't live in the village. And I don't believe that they'll have as much care.

I don't think it's a dramatic change. But I think there's some things that the village does that the town does not do that they probably will eliminate.

The final public hearing on Lake George Village dissolution is tonight at 6 p.m. at the Lake George High School. Voting begins for village residents at noon on Tuesday.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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