Saranac Lake recreation director resigns

SARANAC LAKE – Charlie Martin is resigning as village recreation director due to what he described as a dispute over his pay and a lack of direction from the village over his job responsibilities.

Martin will step down on Friday. He was hired in 2010 as manager of Mount Pisgah Ski Center at a rate of $15 an hour, not to exceed $24,000 a year. It was a seasonal position with no benefits.

In August of last year, the village made Martin a full-time, year-round employee, giving him the title of recreation director and putting him in charge of the village’s parks. He was also still responsible for running Pisgah. His salary was increased to $31,200, plus benefits.

Despite the pay hike, Martin told the Enterprise he was still making the same rate of pay, about $15 an hour, because of the switch to full-time hours.

“Since I’ve been here I haven’t seen a rate increase in my pay, but I’ve seen my responsibilities go up considerably,” Martin said. “Basically, when I approached them about six months ago for equal compensation to responsibilities, they said it couldn’t be done until budget time. And when budgets came around and we readdressed it, I found they had me in for like $100 for the year. At that point, when they weren’t willing to do anything, I just decided it was time for me to move on.”

Martin said he also struggled for a clear understanding of his job responsibilities as recreation director.

“I think the village needs to clearly define what the position is going to be,” Martin said. “That was another thing I could never get a clear grip on. Half the people want me to be in more of a utilitarian mode where I’m fixing and maintaining things, and you’ve got another contingent of people who think I should be out doing the PR dance. There’s only so many hours in a day and in a week to do this stuff.

“I knew what my role was at Mount Pisgah,” Martin added. “I never really knew what my role was as parks director. I asked a couple different times, ‘Could someone please tell me what’s expected?’ But it never became clear, and I don’t think they ever really thought it through, to be honest with you.”

Martin said the workload kept him from doing more to market the mountain, which had been a priority when he was first hired as Pisgah’s manager.

“I was not able to do it, and that’s really what we originally had discussed is that the mountain needed more outbound marketing and sales going on, trying to pull in from Plattsburgh and surrounding areas,” Martin said. “But with the amount of hands-on that’s required for this mountain, there’s just no way to do that.”

During his three-year tenure at Pisgah, Martin oversaw the long-awaited installation of a new T-bar lift and coordinated the construction of a network of multi-use trails on the ski center property, most of which was done by volunteers. The projects were funded by a $600,000 state grant and private funds raised by the Friends of Mount Pisgah. Martin said one of the highlights of his tenure was working with a group of students from the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton Board of Cooperative Educational Services to build some of the trails and expand the mountain’s terrain park.

“The lift was huge; it really was,” he said. “But what made me smile the most was the BOCES affiliation. I feel like I’ve made a lot of gains with the mountain and getting the trails where they are. I leave with a good feeling overall.”

Earlier this year, the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism presented Mount Pisgah with a 2012 Destination Product Award for the effort to modernize its facilities with the new lift and trail system. Martin accepted the award.

Asked about Martin’s resignation Monday, Mayor Clyde Rabideau said, “He’s done a great job for the Saranac Lake community.

“I thank him for his service, and I wish him great success in his years ahead,” the mayor said.

Rabideau said changes to the recreation director position are being debated as part of ongoing budget discussions. He noted that the cost of the position has significantly increased.

“We started out in the mid 30s for salary with minimum fringe benefits,” Rabideau said. “Then we had to add on about $17,000 for health insurance. So right then we were over $50,000 a year for the position. Then you add on all the other fringe benefits and employment taxes, and we’re up to $60,000. The thought is, can we break it up into two part-time positions: one for the summer, one for the winter? We’ll be discussing that at length and trying to figure out the best direction to go in for the years ahead.”

Asked if more could be done to market Pisgah, Rabideau said the village has to be “realistic.

“We have a very small ski slope with an elevation of what, 300 feet? There’s only so much we can do with it,” he said. “We’ve done a lot. Can we tweak it more, maybe increase here and there? Yes. But it is a park, a recreation park, and recreation parks cost money.

“We’re always open to suggestions, but they should be sober suggestions. A lot of people say, ‘You can rent it out for this; you can rent it out for that,’ but you know what? We never see a business plan that goes along with it, and a quick penciling out of the facts and the numbers never indicates a long-term profit potential there. But believe me, if we could figure out a way to make a buck, we’d do it.”