Tupper Lake tourism money still on the table

MALONE – Franklin County legislators appropriated $25,000 for agritourism last week, but there may be another pot of funds to pay for Tupper Lake’s events coordinator position.

The board worked an extra $50,000 into the county’s tourism budget for 2013, over what the tourism department needs for normal operations. It was originally slated for a fishing program called FISHCAP and for the county’s Cornell Cooperative Extension to develop an agritourism program.

But then the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, along with some local politicians, requested $25,000 from the county for a tourism marketing initiative for the Saranac Lake area. Legislators approved that spending in December, allocating half of the money that had been set aside for FISHCAP.

Some Tupper Lake officials were upset about that, saying Tupper Lake should have been included in the program. Tupper Lake’s representative on the county board, Paul Maroun, also the mayor of the village of Tupper Lake, was out of town when his colleagues on the county board gave money to the Saranac Lake project. When he got back, he said he wanted the county to start funding Tupper Lake’s events coordinator position, the cost of which is now split between the town and village of Tupper Lake and the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce.

When Maroun started pushing that idea, though, Bernadette Logozar, who works for Cornell Cooperative Extension and whose position would be funded by the $25,000 in agritourism funds, started lobbying the board to ask for the money to be appropriated to her organization.

Maroun said he supports the idea of agritourism and doesn’t have a problem with spending $25,000 on that plan as long as his fellow legislators also give consideration to the funding for Tupper Lake as well. Since there was no events coordinator for the first few months of the year – Michelle Clement just started earlier this month – Maroun said he now plans to request about $18,000 to fund the position.

“I feel that the people that I represent deserve something, too,” Maroun said at a county meeting earlier this month.

“Consideration is consideration,” said Legislator Gordon Crossman. “It’s not a guarantee.”

North end vs. south end

That discussion got heated, with Maroun and Saranac Lake’s representative on the board, Tim Burpoe, arguing that the south end of the county often gets a raw deal.

Burpoe and Maroun are the only two who have fully southern-end districts on the seven-member county board. Crossman represents a long, L-shaped district that includes the town of Brighton, but he lives in Malone and often sides with northern legislators when there’s a north-end versus south-end issue.

Maroun told his fellow legislators that his district, which includes the towns of Tupper Lake and Santa Clara, doesn’t get a lot of county services, and getting help from the county to promote the area would be nice.

“There’s a lot of things in that area, and I think we’ve actually not supported it as much as we should,” Maroun said. “We don’t have county roads. That’s off the books. We don’t have the courthouse. I understand that. But there’s ways that we can do small things that will keep these people thinking that we’re all working together that will bring in more sales tax, that will bring in more people and maybe coordinate the whole county better.”

Maroun threatened to start holding up a lot of county projects if his funding request is not given fair consideration.

“The south end of this county doesn’t get back what we bring up,” Maroun said. “And we don’t ask for a lot.”

Towns in the southern end give the county a larger portion of property taxes than northern end towns do.

Crossman said it irked him that the Saranac Lake group didn’t include Tupper Lake in its marketing plan.

Burpoe said Crossman was taking the whole thing out of context. He noted that the Saranac Lake Area Tourism Council spent more than a year developing a plan for marketing the Saranac Lake area, which includes areas like Vermontville, Paul Smiths and Lake Clear. That’s the region that the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce covers, while Tupper Lake has its own chamber of commerce, Burpoe noted.

“You can’t have Saranac Lake people coming into Tupper Lake and telling them what they need to be marketing,” Burpoe said.

He said Essex County’s Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, which is partnering with Saranac Lake on its initiative, already was apprehensive about extending into Franklin County at all, but it made sense with Saranac Lake since the village is split between the two counties. Tupper Lake is entirely in Franklin County.

Burpoe said he has had to work too hard to get what is basically small change in terms of the county’s $100 million budget.

“I have to sell my soul for freaking $25,000, and I resent that,” Burpoe said. “That is really frustrating to me. … I’m tired of the south end getting the raw end of the stick, because we really are generating a significant amount of money.”

The meeting ended with legislators giving Maroun their word that they would give his proposal consideration when he brings it to them.

Extra money

All the strife may have been for naught, though. The county Tourism Department was recently transferred out of the purview of the county Industrial Development Agency. As part of that transition, the IDA recently returned $200,000 in unspent funds, county Treasurer Bryon Varin told the board last week.

“There’s more money, I think, than what the board realized,” Varin said.

County Manager Tom Leitz originally said earlier this month there was some money left in that fund, but he had suggested a smaller number at the time.

Either way, it’s likely that money will easily cover the cost of Tupper Lake’s events coordinator

—Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or