SARANAC LAKE - Trudeau Institute's new president and director has asked village and town officials to come to a decision on annexation of the institute's campus into the village, but town officials say they can't discuss it until Trudeau files formal legal papers seeking annexation.
Ronald Goldfarb, who took the helm at the institute last month, wrote an Oct. 18 letter to village Mayor Clyde Rabideau and Harrietstown Deputy Supervisor Barry DeFuria on the subject of annexation.
"Given the complexity of issues surrounding annexation, we would propose that the village and town deliberate on the matter and make a decision that is in the best interests of the greater community," Goldfarb wrote. "We greatly appreciate the consideration you have shown Trudeau and look forward to understanding your collaborative decision."
The village has been pushing for a meeting with the town to discuss annexation and other issues related to Trudeau, but town officials, based on the advice of their attorney, Jim Maher, have said they can't meet until they get a formal petition from Trudeau seeking annexation - the first step in the annexation process under state law.
Maher said Tuesday that he had seen the letter from Goldfarb. He said it doesn't change anything.
"The village and town cannot collaborate ahead of time," Maher said. "That is not proper, and it's not legal. There is a procedure for annexation, which certainly Trudeau could follow by filing that petition."
Why would Trudeau ask the town and village to "make a decision" when the annexation process can't begin without a petition from the institute? The Enterprise tried to contact Goldfarb late Tuesday to ask that question, but he was out of the office.
Lake Placid attorney Matthew Norfolk, who's been doing some legal work for the institute, said he had seen Goldfarb's letter but said he didn't know if Trudeau officials were aware of all the legal steps of annexation.
"I will say that to get the formal process moving for annexation, you would submit or file a petition to the two municipalities involved," Norfolk said.
The potential annexation of Trudeau, and the town's reluctance to meet about it absent a petition from the institute, has been a bone of contention between town and village leaders for months. In June, village and town officials exchanged a series of testy emails on the subject, and it's also become an issue in the race for Harrietstown supervisor between town Councilman Bob Bevilacqua and village Trustee Tom Catillaz.
Goldfarb's letter came up at Monday night's village board meeting. It was read aloud by Trustee Paul Van Cott.
"I really applaud Dr. Goldfarb for sending this letter to the village and the town," he said. "What I would suggest is it's a broader discussion. It's not just about annexation; it's about what are all the ways we can help this large employer do the best it can do in our community. I truly hope the town of Harrietstown will join with the village in having this dialogue. I look forward to hearing from the town."
"Shall we send an invitation?" asked Mayor Clyde Rabideau.
"Tried it already," Van Cott responded.
"I think we should wait until after the election and not turn this thing into a political football game," said Trustee Allie Pelletieri. "Let the town get themselves situated after the election, then it will be time to move with whoever is there."
Maher told the Enterprise Tuesday that he thought it was "very coincidental" that the letter from Goldfarb came just prior to the election.
Van Cott, who's been campaigning for Catillaz, said at Monday's meeting he wasn't trying to make it a political issue.
"We recognize there is a formal process if Trudeau ever decided it was going to pursue annexation, where they file a petition and go through the formal process," Van Cott said. "This is talking about annexation, intermunicipal agreements between the communities. There's a lot of different ways to figure out how to help all of our big employers."
Catillaz said he wasn't opposed to setting up a meeting earlier, "if nobody grandstands, which I guarantee I won't do.
"All the players are going to be the same three weeks from now; it's just some of us might be in different chairs," he said.
Trudeau officials haven't said publicly whether they're seeking annexation or why they might. Rabideau has said it would save the institute $70,000 in annual operating costs due to the cheaper water and sewer rates the institute would get if it's inside the village. Rabideau also said the village could put its Community Development office to work for Trudeau if it's inside the village and work with the institute on building a biotech incubator facility on the Trudeau campus.
But Maher has raised questions about the logistics of the village annexing Trudeau. He's noted that several of Trudeau's eight parcels are owned by the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency and that the IDA may need to be the petitioner seeking annexation.
Maher also said there's a complication with the idea that Trudeau would get cheaper utility rates if it was annexed. He said annexation wouldn't change the boundaries of the town's Algonquin Water and Sewer District, which Trudeau is currently a part of. If Trudeau is still in the district and it received a reduced rate, Maher said the village would have to give other property owners in that district and all other town water and sewer districts the same rate, "by equal protection."
Maher said he's given village Attorney Charles Noth this information, along with another case that he says would enable the village to give Trudeau and other high-volume water users a beneficial rate right now.
"The village could do that now, without annexation," Maher said.