“The message is the town hall has to move.”
That was what New York State Canal Corporation Executive Director Carmella Mantello said to the Whitehall town board on Monday when they met at the Pavilion.
“Our Canal Recreationway Committee (CRC) voted almost unanimously to have you move out,” said Mantello. “They wanted the legal committee to send a very strong letter with a six to nine month timeline for you to leave the site, but I really felt that was not the route that we want to take.”
While Mantello said that the CRC had made its decision, a pair of state legislators asked why they were not made part of the discussions about whether or not the town of Whitehall should be allowed to stay at the site.
“I know that the CRC is concerned about precedent but we are pushing colnsolidation at every turn in the state,” said state assemblyman Tony Jordan. “I know that I was not invited to meet with the CRC to look at all of the pros and cons and if their answer is just a flat “no” to the town I do find that short-sighted on the part of the CRC.”
“We want to sit down with them and talk about this because we are in a different situation financially than we’ve ever been in before,” said state Senator Elizabeth “Betty” Little. “Tony and I would like to go back and meet with the CRC and present the case.”
Meanwhile, all sides agreed that the town should begin to look at a plan that would have the town out of the Pavilion by the end of the 2010 Canal season.
“The CRC has stressed the need for a more permanent time timeline,” said Mantello. “We wanted to have the CRC weigh in and told them that while this is a temporary situation, we are not getting a timeline like we want.”
“I think that the town should put down in writing what they are willing to do and what they propose for a time line,” said Little.
“The bottom line is that we’ve got to get out of here,” said Tony Scrimo, who attended the meeting. “Forget past history, let’s worry about now.”
The meeting, which was called at the request of Mantello, went over the history of the move by the town in 2006 from their former office to the Pavilion, with Mantello saying that the Canal Corporation was not aware of the move until after it happened.
“We found out in May of 2006 that the town had re-located to the visitor’s center,” said Mantello. “To make a long story short, after we found out we contacted the supervisor and were told the reason behind the move. We told him that the use had to be limited. This has been going on for three years, and we need a permanent solution.”
Town supervisor Vernon Scribner said that he had been in contact with state legislators in regards to the town staying in the Pavilion for a longer time.
“I did send a packet to Roy McDonald, Sheldon Silver, Gov. Spitzer, Gov. Patterson, Senator Little and Teresa Sayward explaining the benefits of us being here and having this open year-round,” said Scribner.
“I think that we need to look at the reality of the situation,” said Little. “Would it be better to have the town here or with the Canal Corporation running the center. Which would be better?”
All sides also brought up the fact that the town, which has been doing the care and maintenance for the building and grounds at the Pavilion, would no longer be able to continue that service if they were in charge of caring for their own office.
“If the town moves out with their tightening budget, they’re are not going to keep the building up,” said Little.
“This is not just Dave, Jim, Vern, Farrell and myself talking here,” said town board member David Waters. “We have been listening to our taxpayers, and that is who’s talking. They will hang all of us if we continue to spend money to take care of this place if we are not using it.”
“Because of the town, you have the bathrooms open all of the time and the building kept up,” said Little.
Mantello said that the Canal Corporation had the relationship previously with the town for the upkeep of the Pavilion, and that they have a similar agreement with other towns.
“They do not pay us anything and we do not pay them anything,” she said.
“I don’t see how anyone can compare different towns to us,” said Scrimo. “This town is in a deep depression and 95-percent of the town is on a fixed income. I understand that there was an agreement, but the taxpayers will be up in arms if the town continues to take care of this place.”
“I think that we could still do the grounds,” said Scribner. “But the Canal would have to take over the utilities and the repairs, because you’re looking at the person who does the maintenance here, and because of that we have cut the operating budget here in half.”
“We do take care of some maintenance,” said Mantello. “We have some engineers coming up here to look at the electric doors.”
Mantello said that when the town moves out, that if they were not able to continue to do the work at the site, the Canal Corporation would then bid the work out.
“We would put out an RFP and look for someone to come in and run it,” said Mantello.
Jordan said that he felt the town being at the site offered savings for the state.
“It may not be millions of dollars, but if you can save the state some money with this, it could be a good thing,” sai
“We agree,” said Mantello. “But these buildings on the Canal were not built for a town hall.”
Town councilman Farrell Prefountaine said that he felt that the CRC did not take the concerns of Whitehall into account when making their decision.
“This is a state commission and they do not care about our concerns,” said Prefountaine. “They have their own agenda and I am sick of state politics like this.”
“I take a great deal of offense with you demeaning these people,” said Mantello. “They are all local officials who are also trying to make ends meet at a local level. Frankly, we have taken a very patient and partnership role with you.”
Mantello said that she would tell the CRC that the state legislators want to meet with the commission to discuss the matter more, but that the decision had been made.
She added that if the proper channels would have been followed in 2006, this debate would have never happened because the town would have never been allowed to move into the Pavilion.
“We are not kicking you out, we are trying to work with you while others are trying to come down harder,” said Mantello. “The fact of the matter is that if everything was done the way that it should be in the beginning, there would have never been an agreement to let the town use this site for a town hall.”
“The situation could have been handled better and should have been handled differently,” said Little. “But this is where we are and I think we need to look at the circumstances.”