SENECA FALLS –– Most of those speaking at Wednesday’s Town Board public hearing on the preliminary town budget supported additional funding in the 2020 budget for upgrades to the Seneca Falls Visitor Center at 89 Fall St.
A common theme of speakers was that 2020 will mark the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote, and that should attract a large increase in visitors to the community.
Seneca Falls is considered the Birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement, based on the first women’s rights convention being conducted there in July 1848.
Jim Bero expressed his love for the community where his family has lived for 50 years, but acknowledged that it has changed from being a heavily-industrialized community with downtown stores full. “We’ve lost that, so we’re at a crossroads. We have an opportunity to do better and we have a lot to offer,’’ Bero said.
He said the Cayuga-Seneca Canal runs through the middle of the town, linking the entire state. He cited the women’s rights history, wineries, the It’s A Wonderful Life connections. “I volunteer at the Visitor Center and people from all over the world come here, asking questions and looking for information. I believe having a good Visitor Center should be at the top of the list for the $10 million DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) grant we got today,’’ Bero said.
“Let’s work together to improve the Visitor Center experience for visitors,’’ he said.
Joan Blanchard and Natalie Loucks, retired teachers, also volunteer at the Visitor Center and Seneca Museum of Industry and Waterways, which is housed within the Visitor Center.
“The center is often the first impression people get of Seneca Falls when they come here. People come from Europe, Asia and every state to learn about our rich history. The center is a window to the community and it’s a visual eyesore — with worn rugs, bad windows and other issues that do not represent us well,’’ Blanchard said.
“These visitors spend money in our community. We believe you should invest in the building to encourage them to come back and tell their friends to come here. The 100th year of the 19th Amendment should bring a lot of visitors here in 2020. Invest in the experience,’’ Blanchard said.
Robert Wayne said the town should shut down and then sell Vince’s Park, a swimming pool and recreation facility that Goulds Pumps once owned but gave it to the town some 20 years ago. He said it costs too much money, noting an increase in the preliminary budget for Vince’s Park. “Shut it down and put it on the market,’’ he said.
He said the 4-cent drop in the proposed tax rate should be a much bigger decrease. “Look out for taxpayers. Give us basic services, nothing extra. I want to keep as much of my money in my pocket as I can and not give it to government,’’ Wayne said.
Brad Jones also bemoaned the small tax rate decrease. “There’s a lot of low hanging fruit in the budget. And I don’t see any use of Seneca Meadows revenue to reduce taxes. You should have a 7 to 8 percent tax cut, not a 7 to 8 cent cut,’’ Jones said stating the landfill money should also go toward a reserve fund of up to $1.5 million.
“Please make changes before you adopt a final budget,’’ he said.
Tammy Mills, a member of the Visitor Center board of directors and its treasurer, also voiced support for putting money in the 2020 budget to make maintenance upgrades and building improvements. “You should want to put you’re best foot forward to visitors,’’ she said.
Anwei Law of the It’s A Wonderful Life Museum said the community’s connection to the famous Frank Capra movie should merit more town support as a tourism attraction.
Law said last year saw some 12,000 visitors to the downtown museum with little or no advertising. “This movie is the favorite movie for many people and they come here to make a connection with the film. We’d like to expand the museum. It impacts people and we’ll see an influx of visitors for the 75th anniversary of the movie in 2021. The museum has the potential to be an international hub for information about the movie,’’ she said.
Rhonda Destino, executive director of the Visitor Center, added her voice to those seeking town financial support for the center. She said she proposed a maintenance agreement in July and asked that it be signed for inclusion in the 2020 budget.
“We want to be ready for 2020. This will be a pivotal moment for Seneca Falls,’’ she said.
Supervisor Greg Lazzaro then read three letters from people supporting town inclusion of additional funds for the Visitor Center. The letter writers are Susan Souhan, Mark Lenzi and Ken and Diane McConnell.
The board will discuss the preliminary budget at 4 p.m. Wednesday to consider possible changes.