ELIZABETHTOWN — Rumors to the contrary, Essex County’s public-transportation system is still in business.
The County Board of Supervisors earlier this month withdrew a grant application for $1.5 million in funding for five new buses, a bus storage building and other items but didn’t do anything to the operation of the system.
Yet some supervisors said this week they’ve been contacted by riders of the CHAMP system who were told the buses are ceasing to run.
“I have had constituents contact me, very worried that we’ve done away with our public-transportation system,” Supervisor Margaret Bartley (D-Elizabethtown) said. “Some people have been told the buses are going away. The buses are still here.
“They were very scared.”
People should not be worried that the bus system will shut down, County Manager Daniel Palmer said.
“The only thing we did was withdraw the request for the grant application to the DOT.”
He said he’s meeting with State Department of Transportation representatives over the issue.
“I need to find out what the impact (of refusing the grant) is to the rest of the buses,” Palmer said.
He said he’s working on the CHAMP funding as part of the 2013 county budget proposal.
County Transportation Director Nancy Dougal told lawmakers the buses had 1,118 rides for July, 21 more than June.
One opponent of the bus system said that’s not enough usage.
“There’s a possibility that it could (shut down), because we don’t have the ridership, and we can’t afford to support it,” Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said.
Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) said the county share in the past has been $6,000 to $10,000 a year. The county’s share of the $1.5 million grant would have been about $100,000, the chief reason it was postponed.
“It’s one thing to provide the service, but we can’t absorb that cost,” Douglas said. “I asked her (Dougal) to base her budget on what revenue she anticipated to come in.”
He said Dougal will then meet with Palmer to go over it.
The local share of grants for buying buses has been substantially smaller in past years, and some key grants have been cut for next year, Palmer said.
“The bus service as we currently know it could be substantially lowered if we don’t receive the state and federal funding that we normally do; that is the reality of it,” Douglas said. “When state and federal fundings are cut, we have to revise our needs in these tough economic times.”
Something else they can do is see what the county share would be if they only bonew buses, not equipment or a building, Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington) said.
“There are people out there intentionally stirring this issue,” Preston said. “Take a look at what was applied for in that grant and see what the small percentage was of actual buses.”
Supervisor Daniel Connell (D-Westport) said he’s been contacted by people who need the bus for employment.
“We need some kind of public transportation,” Connell said. “Maybe it won’t be what we have now.”
Supervisor George Canon (R-Newcomb) suggested the towns step up and provide the service, if the county doesn’t.
“Somewhere along the line, the municipality has to step to the plate and take care of their constituents; that is what we do in Newcomb. If there is a problem, that has to be done in these other towns.”
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