PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County became the first of three counties to sign off on a plan to make the former bookmobile a new mobile emergency command center.
But not without some spirited discussion.
“I think we need to go into this with open eyes because nothing is free,” Legislator Mark Dame (R-Area 8, City and Town of Plattsburgh) said at a recent meeting.
The bookmobile, which belongs to the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System, was parked at the end of 2011 due to budget issues.
The idea is to convert the bus into a mobile command center that can be used to coordinate responses in various emergency situations in the three-county area.
Grant money that each of the three counties receives from Homeland Security would help to pay for the conversion of the vehicle. Each county would have to pay about $1,500 per year for maintainence.
The bus would be housed at the Franklin County Highway Department site in Malone.
Franklin County legislators are seeking more exact costs on the plan before voting, and Essex County supervisors tabled the issue at their meeting this week after questions were raised about the plan.
Clinton County legislators unanimously approved the idea, but many concerns were brought up before the vote.
Dame said the local cost may go up, as training would be needed to operate the new equipment on the bus and a heated storage facility would probably be required because of the sophisticated communication equipment.
“I am not sure what it will serve, since we’ve been operating without one forever,” he said.
“Sometimes, the want is greater than the need.”
Legislator Sam Dyer (D-Area 3, Beekmantown), who is a farmer, said that during the 1998 Ice Storm, rural areas could not communicate with emergency responders.
“In the city, you were surrounded with people who could help, but the farmers in the rural areas were devastated,” Dyer said, looking at Dame.
“A mobile command center may not be necessary, but it is a very good thing. If it’s a few bucks, it’s a few bucks.”
Legislator Jonathan Beach (R-Area 2, Altona), who, as a doctor, works with 10 emergency services departments in the area, supported the plan.
“The biggest issue with any disaster is communication,” he said. “We would be foolish not to do this.”
Legislature Chairman Jimmy Langley (R-Area 7, Peru) said the North Country is in a remote area and help from bigger cities is not always available.
“We have to take care of ourselves, and we have to remember that we already have some skin in this game to begin with, since we paid for a portion of the bookmobile,” he said.
“I have a good feeling that this is going to be re-used to help our people and people in the surrounding counties. I know everything has a cost, but human life has a cost, too, and we have to be responsible for our people.”
Legislator Robert Butler (R-Area 6, Saranac), who chairs the county’s Public Safety Committee, said he believes Essex and Franklin counties will approve the plan as well.
“If it becomes an albatross, then we can put it away. I am not looking to cost the county money,” he said. “But I think we need to do this.
“If more expenses than anticipated occur, we don’t have to continue with it.”
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