Your Hometown: Saranac Lake
It's a North Country village with a bit of an identity crisis, split between two counties and three towns. The divide may be transparent to outsiders, but many in the village say it needs to be reformed. For this week's edition of Your Hometown, our Sarah Hagen takes us to the Village of Saranac Lake.
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SARANAC LAKE, N.Y. -- For many in Saranac Lake, the village limits are a blur.
"We are split between two counties and three towns, which as far as I know is the only situation like that in the State of New York,” said Martin Murphy, Saranac Lake Village Manager.
Saranac Lake is split by Franklin and Essex County. The Towns of North Elba, Harrietstown and St. Armand all converge in the village as well and for many residents, it can be a difficult situation to map out.
"It probably took me a few years to figure it all out and I still sometimes need clarification to figure out which part of the town is part of which county,” said Amy Catania, Saranac Lake Historical Assoc. Executive Director.
The split dates back to 1892, when a line was drawn between two tracts of land, MaComb's Purchase, now part of Franklin County, and the Old Military Tract, now part of Essex County. Saranac Lake landed right on that divide.
But as the village grew in size and popularity, becoming the largest village in the Adirondack Park, the lines were never redrawn. Instead, municipalities were layered over one another.
"Some of the old ways, the way things were done, haven't changed and I think the layers of government is one of those reminisce of our old ways here,” said Catania.
Old ways that some say should be updated.
"I think we all agree it would be so much easier if the village was in one county or the other, regardless of which one, but it's not and that is the reality,” said Sylvia Nelson, Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director.
"I think we find ourselves kind of ignoring the two counties, three town things that is a distinction we all have to deal with. But, ultimately we are the Village of Saranac Lake,” said Catania
The county divide runs right down Shepard Avenue and although many say they are indifferent to the split, others say this line of separation is the cause for many challenges.
"A person living on this side of the street, could and has in years past, seen a tax increase when his neighbor directly across the street has seen a tax increase, with no noticeable difference in the services they are receiving,” said Murphy.
"I think there is a general agreement that it would be great to update it, but whenever that is addressed, there are difficult political issues that come about,” said Catania.
And it's been tried before.
"They tried to make Saranac Lake into one or the other county and even tried to form their own county called Adirondack County, but that never went forward,” said Nelson.
One major hurdle is property taxes. Redrawing lines would mean reworking taxes that the area governments depend on.
"In a sense the municipalities compete for those revenue sources,” said Murphy.
Even though the idea has been on the planning table for decades, the village is still brainstorming a way to resolve the divide.
"Certainly when you go out the front door of the village office and within eye sight you can see the Town of North Elba, the Town of Harrietstown you can't help but think there is a duplication of services and there is a lot of redundancy,” said Murphy.
The village manager says a new form of government, or another attempt at a new geographic area could be the solution.
For now, the Village of Saranac Lake continues to try and separate from the layers of community and define itself on the New York map.
Of course, Saranac Lake is also known for being the coldest place in the country on occasion, but we figured that's the last thing people really want to dwell on as spring draws closer.