A feasibility study could be the first step toward shared services between the town and village of Whitehall.
Members of the two Whitehall boards met on Dec. 3 with 12 board members and 26 community residents on hand to discuss the possibilities of joining forces in a number of areas, deciding to form a committee to look into funding for a study to find out where the most effective consolidation could take place.
“I think that we gotta explore these avenues and see what’s best for the town and for the village,” said town councilman David Hollister.
Town councilman David Waters said that talk about sharing services at the town level led to asking the village to have a joint meeting.
“We should have the common courtesy of asking the village if they are looking into any consideration of consolidation,” said Waters. “We could file for survey money, just like Lake George did, but I felt that we should hear from the crowd first, especially the village board and see how everyone feels about looking into a feasibility study.”
Village trustee Kenneth Bartholomew said that the study would tell the two boards where they could effectively share services, but was not a mandate that they do so.
“The study does not mandate you make a decision,” said Bartholomew. “The study tells you if you can do it and where you can do it. If you can get the money to do a study, then we should go ahead.”
“I’m in agreement and there are grants out there through the state if we are looking for a consolidation,” said village trustee Walter Sandford. “There are services that both entities can share and I am interested to see where a study would show for areas that we could save money.”
Village mayor Patricia Norton was concerned that the town board was asking if the village would look into dissolving into the town.
“Two or three weeks ago, I was approached by a board member to see if there were areas where we could discuss shared services,” said town councilman Farrell Prefountaine in response. “I think that this meeting was called to just open it up and decide where we can help each other out. How far we go from here is for another day, but it’s a start.”
Part of the discussion focused on the town’s potential move into the former Off-Track Betting and Garden Time retail store located on County Route 4 just outside of the village line.
“There is ample space on the OTB side, leaving the retail side alone,” said Fred Troelstra, part-owner of Garden Time who offered the building to the town at a lease rate of $500 per month. Troelstra and said that he was open to discuss the purchase of the property by the town.
“It is going to happen sooner or later because the courthouse has got to move,” said Bartholomew.
The two sides then asked each other if they could both fit into the OTB space, which offers about 2,500-square feet of room.
“The OTB part is big enough to hold the town, the village and the courts,” said Waters.
“The village occupies just over 2,000-square feet and it is all full,” said village DPW supervisor Jiem Rozell.
“We’re occupying about 700-square feet and we could use more,” said town supervisor Vernon Scribner.
“I’m not against looking at consolidation of things like the DPW and the fire departments,” said trustee Richard Colomb. “But with the issues that we have now, I’m not voting at any time to fund a new building and I don’t want us to leave from where we are because I don’t want to see another vacant building downtown.”
“We have a brand-new $5 million water plant and the DEC is on our butt about waste water,” said Norton. “For us to sit here and say that we would kick in half for a building is out of the question unless we can fund it in some way.”
Village clerk Joan Douglas further discussed the financial concerns of the municipality.
“The village debt is $1,020,000 in the sewer and $70,000 in the water, and that’s after already paying about $5.2 million to the water services,” said Douglas. “We also have a debt of $897,000 in the general fund.”
Scribner said that the town is currently debt-free.
Bartholomew countered that the village debt is largely due to mandates from state agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Conservation.
“If the DEC says that you are going to spend $700,000, then you are,” said Bartholomew in response. “You can say that you don’t have it, and they will tell you, ‘too bad.’”
Bartholomew added that there would be a bigger burden for those within the village boundaries if the two municipalities were to consolidate.
“Everyone thinks that if we consolidate then everyone’s taxes in the town are going to go down, but that is not the case,” said Bartholomew. “People in the town will not be picking up the money for the water and sewer districts. So if you say that the taxes might go down, then yes, they might, but those in the village will be hit on their fees to a water and sewer district.”
Trustee Don Hart said that he was agreeable with going forward with a feasibility study, but had concerns.
“Let’s go ahead with the study, but the thing that bothers me is that everyone is just focused on that building,” said Hart. “We need to look at everything and take the lead on this before the taxpayers take it out of our hands by petition or referendum.”
“The initial phase should be to complete a study and see where to go from there,” said Sandford.
The two boards formed a committee that included Hollister, Norton and Carol Greenough to look into a feasibility study.
“We are going to look into getting grant money and getting a study started,” said Hollister.