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ORDA secures state funding, for now

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The state Olympic Regional Development Authority has secured its annual appropriation from the state, but its budget difficulties may be just beginning. In budget bills approved this week, the state Legislature set aside $5.6 million for ORDA, which operates Whiteface Mountain and Gore Mountain ski centers and the 1980 Winter Olympic venues in Lake Placid. That's about $1 million less than the authority received last year, and about $3 million less than what was allocated for ORDA two years ago. At a board meeting in Lake Placid this week, some ORDA officials said that if they're forced to absorb additional cuts, the authority's venues and the communities that ORDA supports could be impacted. Chris Knight reports.

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Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

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Several members of ORDA's board of directors said Tuesday that the authority has reached a financial tipping point. Any further reductions in state funding could lead to the closure of venues. Serge Lussi is the board's vice chairman.

"That's what we're looking at. It's a question of what ORDA wants to close first. But if we don't get the appropriations and we close these facilities, it's going to impact the entire North Country."

Before the most recent cut ORDA officials had already taken steps to reduce expenses. They cut their personal services budget by about $900 thousand last year, primarily by reducing overtime, running operations with fewer employees, and laying off seasonal workers earlier.

ORDA president and CEO Ted Blazer said the latest cut means the authority will take another look at staffing levels although there's been no mention yet of any layoffs.

"I think we're going to be consolidating some of our staff and working around some venue-to-venue with certain groups that will help with grounds. We're going to have to look at how we're using year-round employees and how we can interface them into some seasonal work--it's just something we're going to have to do so that we can keep this boat moving forward."

Some ORDA officials, however, said it's premature to talk about potential layoffs and venue closures while the state's fiscal situation is probably not going to get better next year. Board President Joe Martens said it's too early to speculate what the impacts to ORDA could be.

"We're still standing, as somebody said, and that's a good thing. And I don't think we're going to just whither away--we've got resources, we still have plenty of operating income, but there's no question there's going to be some deep impacts," Martens said.

Despite its current fiscal situation, ORDA is moving ahead with two big projects this summer. Work on the Lake Placid Conference Center has resumed after being on hold for nearly two months due to a lack of state funding for construction projects. Work is also continuing at Gore Mountain on a plan to connect the ORDA-run ski center with the town's North Creek Ski Bowl through a series of trails and a new lift.

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