ELIZABETHTOWN — Underfunding Essex County’s public-transportation system would “condemn the program,“ one county lawmaker says.
Supervisor Margaret Bartley (D-Elizabethtown), who chairs the County Board of Supervisors Transportation Committee, recently said that unless aging buses are replaced as needed the system will eventually shut down.
“I think we need to have a public-transportation system,” she said. “You’re looking at a thousand people (riding) a month.”
At issue is a $1.5 million federal and state grant to buy five new buses — but which requires a county matching share of $170,000.
The Village of Lake Placid and Olympic Regional Development Authority would pay $70,000 of the cost, since they use some of the buses, leaving the county responsible for about $100,000.
Although the purchase has passed twice at the committee level, it must still survive a final vote by the Board of Supervisors, set for 10 a.m. Monday.
Its passage has been extensively debated, and some supervisors say the county always intended to run its public-transportation system only as long as it was at little or no cost to the county.
But grants that in previous years required little or no matching funds now have higher local shares inserted as a condition.
‘SELL MORE ADS’
Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) wanted Transportation Director Nancy Dougal to suggest cuts to the purchase, and she did, eliminating some items to get the $100,000 remaining county share down to $60,000. That would have reduced the grant package to $1.2 million.
But the board passed the full $1.5 million package at its Ways and Means session, by a 13-4 vote, with Supervisor David Blades (R-Lewis) absent.
Voting no were Scozzafava, Randy Preston (I-Wilmington), George Canon (R-Newcomb) and Michael Marnell (R-Schroon).
“I haven’t see a ridership increase. We’ve been running this program for a number of years,” Scozzafava said.
Before this, the county cost was about $6,000 a year.
“The Transportation Department has virtually cost us nothing until this point,” Preston said. “I think we’re heading for another potentially challenging budget year (for the county in 2013).”
Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) said getting more advertising on the buses could help fund the program. The bus ads make about $24,000 a year now.
“I think there’s great potential there (for more ads),” he said. “If we’re going to invest this kind of money, I’m worried where we’re going with this.”
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