March 12th, 2024

By Aaron Marbone


The project to build a new emergency services building for fire, ambulance and police responders in Saranac Lake got a $4.5 million boost from the federal government over the weekend after Congress passed a consolidated appropriations act with the funding request submitted by North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik. President Joe Biden signed the package through on Saturday.

“This is a significant result for Saranac Lake,” Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, told the Enterprise on Monday.

Mayor Jimmy Williams said he was “ecstatic” to learn the award was funded.

“Pretty awesome, right?” Williams said on Monday. “This is the biggest chunk (of money) we’ve gotten so far.”

There’s still a lot to be fleshed out in terms of the project itself, Williams added, but this money increases its likelihood of successful completion. He said the village is seeking out every funding opportunity for the estimated $27.5 million project.

“The price tag is enormous. It is scary for all of us,” Williams said. “But it’s got to be done, so we’ve got to figure out a way to do it.”

Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brendan Keough said he was “quite excited” about the funding, adding that it is a “big step” in the ongoing process. The full work to find enough funding for the project will take years, he said.

Trustee Matt Scollin, an ex-officio member of the village’s Emergency Services Building Committee, said he’s “very appreciative” for the grant and said it brings them closer to making the project a reality.

“Obviously, it doesn’t get us all of the way there, but this is real momentum, this is real energy,” Scollin said.

Keough said they are “super-grateful” for Stefanik’s efforts.

“She has been a very good advocate and a very good listener for emergency services,” he said.

Stefanik said she first learned about Saranac Lake’s need for updated emergency facilities at the 2022 Winter Carnival Gala Parade. On that day, she said Keough waved her down and requested a visit to discuss federal funding for the project. Keough said he’s known Stefanik for years and they have a good working relationship.

Three months later, she toured the fire hall with local officials.

“It was clear how important it is,” she said on Monday. “They just needed a new building with a significant, significant investment.”

Local elected leaders put together a proposal for community project funding and Stefanik submitted it as a line item in this appropriations bill. She said it was funded for the full amount it could have been and she’s proud of that.

“It’s one of the largest line item(s) for community project funding,” Stefanik said.

Stefanik claimed the state of New York was “clearly” not supporting the first responders, and unable to get funds elsewhere, so she delivered for them. The village has not sought state grants yet, but will in the future.

“Without additional funding sources, federal or state … there’s no way that this project would even be possible,” Keough said.

Scollin said the village is going to “shake every tree” they can.

The village is waiting on a contract from the entity dispersing the $4.5 million funds, Williams said, so he’s currently unsure how soon it will be available and what specifically it should be spent on. For now, he said he’s just happy it got approved.

“Stefanik has made multiple personal visits to Saranac Lake’s current emergency services facilities,” Willams said in a statement. “From the outset, she recognized the dire conditions and committed to doing everything in her power to help. … We are grateful for the congresswoman’s follow-through on the promise she made to our local heroes and the community they serve 24/7/365.”

The fire department has been looking for a new home since 1971, and the police department building fails every inspection it gets.

State of the project

In December, the village purchased a 15.089-acre parcel at 33 Petrova Ave. containing the former St. Pius X High School for $350,000 with the goal of building a colocated fire, ambulance and police complex there. Currently, the fire and rescue departments are at 100 Broadway and the police station is at 1-3 Main St.

But this plan to move the three departments to Petrova has been controversial with neighbors and some village residents.

A group of neighbors who live near the proposed site, other community members and at least one member of the village board feel the village could fit the joint building — or at least the fire and rescue squads — in their existing location at 100 Broadway. The rest of the board, the project engineers and the fire chief disagree and see moving to 33 Petrova as their only option. This disagreement has been at an impasse for months, and members of the public still feel their questions have not been answered.

On Monday, the village board considered a resolution that would allow the engineering firm Wendel Five Bugles Design to further investigate the 100 Broadway idea, after persistent requests from the public and some board members for more data on the 100 Broadway site.

Williams said this could cost up to $10,000 to do.

According to Williams, if the village doesn’t go any further with Wendel, it would still pay this amount. But if it moves forward with Wendel, they could use this money as a “credit” toward engineering work at whichever site if they chose to build at.

Two years ago, the previous village board approved a $2.5 million reserve fund set aside for the emergency services building. So far, the village has spent $165,000 on additional land behind the firehall, $40,000 for the feasibility study and less than $5,000 for a historical study. With the $350,000 purchase of the Petrova Avenue land in December, the village has spent just under a quarter of that fund.

The larger bill

Stefanik said this appropriations bill contained several “key Conservative wins,”including a 10%, $1 billion, funding cut to the Environmental Protection Agency, a $977 million cut from the Department of Justice and a 6% reduction in funding for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“The FBI has been weaponized,” she said.

She pointed to the 2018 Schoharie limousine crash, which killed 20 people, as an example of the FBI’s “politicization.” She said the FBI refused to do a review until she questioned its director, adding that the owner of the limo company was a longtime FBI informant.

“So, yes, the FBI’s budget needs to be cut. They are being politicized,” she said.

She also said prohibiting the Department of Veterans Affairs from submitting a veteran or beneficiary’s name to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System list without a judge’s consent was a win.

“With this bill, House Republicans are slashing wasteful spending and limiting Joe Biden’s overreach into the lives of hardworking taxpayers,” Stefanik said in a statement.

Stefanik supported the 7% funding cut to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which she said targets law-abiding gunowners with a “bloated bureaucracy.” The ATF are regulators going after gun retailers, which she called “wasteful spending.”

Locally, she also was encouraged by $10 million to start planning and design for a third homeland missile defense interceptor site at Fort Drum in Watertown.

The federal government is facing another funding deadline in two weeks with the Defense, State and Homeland Security budgets. Stefanik promised to work for strong conservative wins while advocating for the needs of her district.