ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County will get $1.5 million to buy new buses for its public transportation system, as long as it comes up with $89,000 from county coffers.
County Manager Daniel Palmer said they are eligible for $1.3 million federal grant, $170,800 from the state, $20,000 in trade-in money and $61,000 from the Village of Lake Placid and the Olympic Regional Development Authority.
The new buses would replace ones that are nearing the end of their life, he said. Some of them are used to ferry tourists around Lake Placid and to ORDA sites such as Whiteface Mountain State Ski Center.
The county would use the money to buy five buses: two for the county’s CHAMP public transportation system, one for Lake Placid and two for ORDA.
Palmer said the county contingency account has only $137,000 in it right now, so they’d have to pay the county share out of the current budget’s fund balance.
“Basically, both the state and federal (grants) need commitments from the county before they will authorize the funding to be released. The commitment from the county represents that $89,000 in local funding. This is not an item that was budgeted for.
“If you don’t support this, we are probably looking at a shutdown of the bus program at some point.”
Palmer said reducing the number of buses purchased wouldn’t reduce the county share significantly.
“You don’t gain much by doing that, because if you cut back on one bus, then you cut back on 90 percent of the funding, so it really saves you 10 percent. It is only because that is the way it is funded: 80 percent federal, 10 percent state and 10 percent local.”
Palmer said it’s possible they could pay the county share on the other end of the grants, so it would come out of the 2013 county budget.
“Obviously, it would be easier if we could take it out of the 2013 budget than it is the 2012 budget,” Supervisor Roby Politi (R-North Elba) said.
Palmer said the bus system has been controversial because county leaders didn’t want to spend any county money on it.
“I think it has provided a lot of service. I think it has meant a lot to an awful lot of people. But the discussion originally was that if it started to cost the county money, then the county wasn’t going to support it.”
The buses are used by many individuals to get to work or appointments.
“There are an awful lot of people and departments that count on that bus to deliver clients and all those sorts of things,” Palmer said.
Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said he believes the northern bus routes are more heavily used than the southern ones through his town.
“I very seldom see people. In fact, I have had someone suggest to me that we buy those couple of people (who ride) a vehicle, and it would be cheaper to send them back and forth that way.”
Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington) said funding bus routes with few riders doesn’t make sense.
“I really think that we need to take a look at the routes, and the low-ridership routes have to go. Those ORDA buses, when Whiteface is open and they are operating the ski shuttle, they are packed.”
The County Board of Supervisors Finance Committee voted 7 to 2 to accept the grants and buy the buses, with Scozzafava and Supervisor George Canon (R-Newcomb) opposed.
The buses get another preliminary vote and will be debated again at the Ways and Means session on Monday, July 30, when County Transportation Director Nancy Dougal can attend.
Email Lohr McKinstry: