2010 village laws weren’t enacted

SARANAC LAKE – A string of local laws the village Board of Trustees thought it enacted in 2010, ranging from setting sewer rates to extending a size cap on new retail stores, didn’t officially become laws until recently because the state had no record they were enacted.

Village Clerk Kareen Tyler says she sent in the necessary paperwork after the laws were approved, but she only recently discovered that New York’s Department of State didn’t have records for any local law filings from the village in 2010. The agency told the Enterprise Monday that it also has no record of any village laws filed in 2011.

Under state Municipal Home Rule Law, a local law has to be filed with the secretary of state within 20 days of its adoption or approval. The statute says the local law is not effective until it’s filed in the office of the secretary of state.

Tyler said she didn’t realize there was a problem until an issue came up with a law the village enacted in June 2010 that requires properties outside the village that want to tap into village water or sewer service to be annexed into the village.

“Someone questioned it, so I called the New York State Department of State and said, ‘Can you tell me what laws were filed in 2010?'” Tyler said. “I was thinking she would just tell me the names and the dates because I had mailed them all in, and she said, ‘We don’t have anything for you for 2010.”

The village enacted at least seven local laws in 2010. In addition to the water-sewer annexation law, and laws setting sewer rates and extending the retail size cap, other laws the board approved that year restricted smoking near village playgrounds, gave the village manager the power to appoint new employees, limited contractor yards to certain locations in the village and allowed alternate members to be appointed to the planning board.

Tyler said she mailed the laws to the Department of State after they were approved, but she said she never got a letter from the agency that they had been received. She wasn’t concerned at the time.

“I’ve been in numerous conferences with the New York Conference of Mayors where clerks will say, ‘I don’t ever get a letter,’ and the people at the front of the room will say ‘Oh, that’s common,'” Tyler said. “I never thought anything of it. In the 14 years I’ve been here, I’ve probably received two letters.”

Kirk Gagnier, an attorney who handles local law filings for the town of Tupper Lake, said the town “generally” gets some kind of confirmation back, “but I can’t say that’s always been the case.”

Another local clerk, however, said she routinely gets notice from the state after her municipality has filed local laws. Town of Harrietstown Clerk Patricia Gillmett emailed the Enterprise a copy of a letter the town received after it filed a local law last year.

“The town has always gotten them,” she said. “Our attorney, Jim Maher, does our filings for us, and he will give me copies or the original of that notification that they’ve received it.”

Once Tyler learned the state had no record of Saranac Lake’s 2010 laws, she said she was told to send them in again so they could be filed. She said she did so, via Fed Ex return receipt, then called about four or five days later because she hadn’t received a letter saying the laws were filed.

“So she wrote one up and faxed it to me, so I have (a record) that they’ve been filed,” Tyler said. “It’s all taken care of now.”

Since they were only filed recently, however, does that mean the 2010 laws technically weren’t in effect for the last four years?

“It’s an interesting question. I haven’t researched it,” said village Attorney Charles Noth. “Technically, you might be able to make that argument, but I think the village would say in good faith that we meant to pass them, we did pass them, and we acted in accordance with those laws.”

Tyler said the village now plans to check to make sure every law it’s passed in the last few years is on file with the state.

“I intend to call the state and say, ‘Tell me the laws filed for this date and this date,’ and go from there,” she said.

The Enterprise asked the Department of State’s State Records bureau Monday how many local laws it has on file from the village for each of the last five years. The agency says it has none for 2010 and 2011, three from 2012, four in 2013 and nine this year.

The village approved at least four laws in 2011, including a zoning change that allowed a pair of biotech companies to locate in two Main Street buildings and a planned unit development district law.