Village backs legislation for lower speed limits

SARANAC LAKE – The village Board of Trustees has asked the state for a law that would let it, and other villages and towns across New York, set their own speed limits.

The board voted 3-2 Monday to approve a resolution that calls on the state Senate and Assembly “to enact legislation this year that would change state law to provide municipalities with more home-rule authority over speed limits.”

Mayor Clyde Rabideau cast the tie-breaking vote. Trustees Paul Van Cott and Barbara Rice were in favor of the resolution while trustees Tom Catillaz and Allie Pelletieri were opposed.

The resolution was drafted by Van Cott. He said he’s heard complaints from village residents in several neighborhoods about people driving too fast. The speed limit on village streets is 30 mph except in school zones, where it’s 20 mph.

“The idea of people driving through Helen Hill at 30 miles per hour, with little kids out playing, scares me, and I think it scares a lot of our citizens,” Van Cott said. “I think that would be true for any neighborhood in the village.

“If we had the authority, we could say the speed limit on village streets is 20 miles per hour, to keep it lower in our neighborhoods, and I think that would be a good thing for public safety.”

But Pelletieri raised a string of questions about the resolution. He wondered what the expense would be of getting new signs. Village Manager John Sweeney said it costs the village $35 to $40 per sign.

“Another thing that concerns me is, are we going to have a run on this where everybody’s neighborhood is going to want to say it’s too fast on their streets?” Pelletieri asked. “It’s nice to have our own say, but there’s something to be said about consistency in government. It could become confusing when you travel.”

Pelletieri also wondered if the village could change the speed limits on state highways or if they would be exempt.

He said there is a bill pending in Albany that would allow local governments to set their own speed limits, and he said he’d like to read that lbefore voting on the village resolution.

Van Cott said the village’s resolution isn’t tied to any particular bill in the state Senate or Assembly.

“We’re just setting our policy here to say that we support legislation that would give us the authority to impose lower speed limits on village streets,” he said. “We’re not necessarily signing onto any specific bill.”

When the vote was taken and it was clear that Rabideau would have to break the deadlock among the trustees, the mayor said he has several concerns with the idea of the village setting its own speed limits.

“Everything Alllie said was true,” Rabideau said. “There’s going to be a cost for signage. Every neighborhood is going to want 20 miles per hour. And frankly, it’s not enforceable. I really think this is a superfluous law, and I don’t think it’s ever going to be enacted.

“I’m going to vote for it, but I’m giving you fair warning about what’s ahead and that Allie hit the nail on the head. It’s been a good thing sometimes to say state law precludes us from doing this, because every single neighborhood in Plattsburgh and Saranac Lake wants 20 miles per hour.”

The village’s resolution will be forwarded to a long list of state legislators, including the chairs of the Senate and Assembly transportation committees, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.