LAKE PLACID - The town of North Elba may cut its annual appropriation to the state Olympic Regional Development Authority in order to hold the line on rising costs.
That proposal, which would reduce North Elba's contribution by $150,000 per year, generated a "healthy discussion" during a meeting of ORDA's Board of Directors Wednesday afternoon.
Board member Bob Flacke said that while he appreciates the town's desire to reduce its expenses, now is not the time for North Elba to draw down its appropriation. He said new ORDA ventures like the Conference Center at Lake Placid are still maturing and need the community's support.
Bob Flacke, a member of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority’s Board of Directors, says North Elba should reconsider reducing its annual appropriation to the agency.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
"This is not a wealthy organization; it runs cash poor every year," Flacke said. "ORDA cannot survive without income from the local government and without income from the state of New York - that's in my opinion."
Whiteface Mountain Ski Center and other venues take in revenue, but Flacke said the agency can't afford to make capital improvements to all of its property.
"It must have a shot of money to take care of those capital things," he said, adding that the town sees a great return on its investment in ORDA.
A member item started by the late state Sen. Ron Stafford once augmented North Elba's contribution by $175,000. Fiscal issues in Albany prompted state Sen. Betty Little to reduce that figure to $155,000 and then again to $130,000.
North Elba Councilman Derek Doty, who is challenging town Supervisor Roby Politi in the Nov. 8 election, told Flacke that as recently as last year, the town didn't receive a dime.
Doty noted that in the beginning, ORDA agreed to take over operation of the Olympic Center with the town paying the agency $425,000. That number has doubled to about $902,000, and Doty said North Elba is proposing to drop the figure to just under $745,000.
"We want to carry our weight, we recognize the importance of ORDA, and we will strive to make you successful, as we want to be successful," Doty said. "I believe there's things we can do along the way to capitalize on that."
Doty said one thing the town can do is to engage in a mutual effort with the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism and ORDA to make sure the new convention center turns into an economic success.
"But for right now, we're rowing a boat that's looking at a 2 percent property tax cap, and I believe we have greater challenges than you folks at that table have," he said. "So don't think we don't want to be a player; we certainly do."
In a phone interview with the Enterprise, Politi said Flacke is right when he says ORDA is good for North Elba.
"ORDA has provided a great benefit for the community," he said. "But the issue is payment. We had a member item that was supposed to run through 2012. The state has not paid recently and the last payment was a portion. And then they decided they're not going to pay."
Politi said the town never balked at paying its share. The problem, he said, is that it's no longer affordable.
"In some ways, given the increasing costs, it would be better that the town didn't own it," Politi said, referring to the Olympic Center.
He also said there's no written agreement between ORDA and the town.
"We don't have a contract," Politi said. "We have paid because of our good relationship with them over the last two years.
The strength of that relationship was stressed several times during yesterday's meeting.
ORDA Chairman Pat Barrett said talks between the two entities remain "healthy." He also agreed that it's important for the greater community to get together and help make venues like the conference center work.
"We got to make this place fly now that we've got it," he said.