St. Lawrence County legislators spar over safety, economics involved in Waddington Bassmaster event
BY ANDY GARDNER
North Country This Week
After a long discussion where some legislators weighed public safety versus economic development, the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators voted to give $30,000 to Bassmaster for this year’s Elite Series tournament in Waddington.
The vote and discussion took place during the board’s July 6 meeting that was streamed live online via YouTube.Yes votes on the expenditure came from Republicans Joe Lightfoot, Bill Sheridan, Harry Smithers, Kevin Acres, Rita Curran and Jim Reagen. Also voting yes were Democrats Rick Perkins, Dan Fay, Suzanne Fiacco, Tony Arquiett and Nicole Terminelli.
Republicans Dave Forsythe, Larry Denesha and John Burke voted no.
“I believe putting economic gain ahead of safety for folks in SLC is the wrong thing, and I will not be a part of that. It’s contrary to what we’ve done for the last two-three months. The fair have been canceled … there’s so many things that have been canceled. We can’t even have regular graduations,” said Denesha. He also noted that a discussion at the most recent Finance Committee meeting to offer relief to property owners who couldn’t pay taxes on time due to the pandemic “didn’t get much traction.”
“I cannot in good faith vote to put public safety below economic development. I cannot in good faith vote … for another tournament, that I think is going to promote Bassmasters more than us,” said Forsythe.
“The risk involved from the COVID. Yes, the Bassmasters have met their obligation. I certainly trust Dana and the Public Health Department and the people from the county … there still is a fair amount of unknowns. And a test is just a snapshot in time. It’s little comfort to me about the potential for people coming from out of the area, people bringing in the COVID virus,” said Burke.
Other legislators, the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce director and a local Bassmaster organizer said they feel the local impact is too big to ignore, and they feel Bassmaster is taking safety seriously.
“The plan also includes and the governor’s guidelines instruct the anglers and their families are only to be participating in the tournament,” said Brooke Rouse, county chamber director. “They wake up, they go on the water, they go home, they order pickup … curbside grocery, things like that and then they return to their rooms.”
“They’re instructed … they’re not to be out and about,” Rouse said.
“During a year when all the other tournaments have been canceled, it is particularly important to make this tournament move forward since this organization has worked hard to meet all the safety standards,” said Reagen. “We’re investing in the future of our county. The amount of time we’re going to get devoted to SLC on ESPN and in other bass fishing outlets is going to provide us with invaluable publicity and public awareness for years to come.”
“It’s very important for us to support this … it does give us a national stage for a bit of time letting people know what we offer in terms of recreation and fishing,” said Legislator Rita Curran, R-Massena.
Burke said he thinks the local Bassmaster committee isn’t doing a thorough accounting of their expenditures and revenues.
“I look at the bottom line from last year’s … and it doesn’t reflect in this year’s budget. I’m really uncomfortable with this. I really am,” Burke said, adding that a 2019 Bassmaster budget document showed about $15,300 left over after all was said and done. Burke alleged that balance wasn’t reflected in the 2020 Bassmaster budget given to county lawmakers prior to their vote.
Bill Dashnaw, chair of the local committee working to help organize the tournament, said he believes their most current budget sheets accurately reflect their financial standing.
He said according to the 2020 budget, they went into this year with a $20,000 grant and $6,800 left over from last year.
“The final numbers have just been put together recently,” Dashnaw told the legislators. “These are numbers that are … counted for, so those balances, the $26,800 that is a clear balance.”
“Your budget is one thing, but your actual expenses … are quite different,” he said.
Burke also took issue with some of the individual line items in Bassmaster’s budget for this year, like portable toilets and traffic control.
Rouse said the traffic control budget is for when the anglers go in and out of the boat launch with their trucks and trailers. And the portable toilets are part of the safety plan so the anglers and staff don’t have to leave their fenced-in area at Whittaker Park in Waddington and possibly use toilets off the premises.