By MIKE LYNCH
LAKE PLACID -- What happens at the county level in Elizabethtown may play a big role in defining the Town of North Elba's race for supervisor.
Monday night at the Hilton Lake Placid Resort, supervisor hopeful Robert "Roby" Politi squared off with incumbent Shirley Seney in an hour-long debate organized by Mountain Communications, which runs several radio stations, including WNBZ and Rock 105.
Seated side by side in front of an audience of 50 people, candidates answered questions from a panel of three reporters -- Kim Smith Dedam of the Press-Republican, Jacob Resnick of WNBZ and Rich Rosentreter of the Lake Placid News -- during a forum moderated by WNBZ News Director Chris Knight.
Both candidates agreed that more affordable housing was needed, consolidation of services between North Elba and Lake Placid was important, and that smart growth was a key facet to the future.
But when the candidates were questioned about failed efforts to bring more county sales-tax revenue back to North Elba, the candidates differed in their opinions.
Seney, a Republican who has held the supervisor position since 1995, said it isn't possible to recoup more county sales-tax revenue.
"Rather than trying to get back some of the sales tax, we need to start working on a plan that would generate some income through bed tax of vacation rentals or something like this that would reduce the cost to our taxpayers," said Seney, noting that North Elba generates more than 90 percent of Essex County's sales-tax revenue. "It's a no-win situation when it comes to trying to recoup. I'd love to say that I'm going to be the supervisor that does that, but I wouldn't be telling the truth if I said that."
But Politi, a former Lake Placid mayor, magistrate and town councilman who is running on an independent party line, indicated that more could be done by the North Elba supervisor in terms of getting better return on sales-tax revenue.
"I believe our return on investment has not been very good, given that our money, our dollars, are running Essex County government," said Politi, who owns the Lake Placid-based Merrill Thomas Real Estate company.
"I feel we have to be more aggressive, and we have to build stronger alliances down there in the county to try to make headway in terms in trying to get sales-tax money or a change in the administration of sales-tax money."
He said putting more money into North Elba would benefit both the town and the county.
Later in the evening, Seney brought up the idea of forming an Adirondack County, consisting of North Elba and other surrounding towns that have economies based on tourism, as a means of keeping revenue local.
"I think there are ways out there that we should be forming our own county and bringing in our revenue that we could use in the northern part of Essex County," said Seney, noting that she has worked on this idea in the past with other officials.
She also noted numerous overlooked instances where the county provides services to North Elba, such as when the county and town highway departments work together on roads. She mentioned that the county provides mental and public health services.
"There are many instances that we do receive money from the county that everyone is unaware of," Seney said.
Another issue raised during the evening was the proposed design of the Adirondack Museum, which has been controversial. Both candidates said they supported the museum being in the community and the work of the Joint Review Board that is handling the proposal.
Politi took the issue one step further than Seney, saying that he thought the codes regulating the museum project should be changed. He said churches, synagogues, museums and other cultural buildings should be treated differently from private structures.
"Maybe we should treat those buildings differently than we treat commercial buildings," Politi said.
When asked about tax burdens creating hardships for longtime residents, Seney suggested the town form a commission that could focus on developing a piece of property for affordable housing.
Politi responded by saying that government spending needs to be controlled in order to lower taxes. "If you want to lower taxes, you have to control spending."