Advertisements for Hannaford's Supermarket have been placed on the Cascade Express busses run by the Essex County Department of Transportation.
Members of the Essex County Ways and Means committee gave Transportation head Nancy Dougal one more week before potentially deciding on the future of the busing program.
The supervisors voted 13-4 (Lewis Supervisor David Blades was absent) to pass a resolution on to the full board for the county to pay $60,418 toward a grant that would help purchase busses and equipment for Essex County as well as for the village of Lake Placid and the Olympic Regional Development Authority.
The bulk of the funding for the purchases would come from state and federal 5311 funding totalling $1,537,856.
Originally, the project would have 90 percent of the costs covered through federal and state grants, with Lake Placid and ORDA paying just over $61,000 of an estimated $170,000 local share.
Under a new proposal submitted by Dougal, the local share would cost $121,870, with the village and ORDA paying that same amount and the county picking up the rest.
Dougal said that she removed the request for a poll barn to house the vehicles, a lift for maintenance work, a service vehicle and GPS tracking systems from the original grant package.
County Manager Daniel Palmer, however, felt that those should stay in and the price should remain where it was originally set.
“If you are asking me, I don't think that we need a building but I agree that if we can get it done for $17,000 we should look into it,” Palmer said. “I also believe that if we can get a lift for heavier vehicles for $4,000 we need to take a look at it. You also really need to know where these busses are and how they are running. I think that this is a smart investment. I do think we have enough truck and vehicles that we do not need the service vehicle.”
Dougal said that one thing she would not take out of the proposal was shelters for bus stops.
“I would really like to see them kept in because we have people that are waiting and when they wait in other buildings they miss the bus,” she said. “If we have shelters at stops, then the drivers can see that someone is there.”
Some supervisors said that they would pass the resolution to the full board, but may not vote the same way during the Monday, Aug. 6 meeting.
“We started this program and said that it was not going to be county money,” Westport Supervisor Dan Connell said. “If we do this, then we are going to change the whole tenor of this and then it will be a county program and we will be funding it with county money every year.”
“Now that we are going to invest this kind of money, I am really concerned about where we may be going with this,” Jay Supervisor and board Chairman Randy Douglas said. “We might need to go back and look at our priority list and see what we have to do. We might have to look at this and I hate to say it, but we might have to make the decision that it is time to cut it. Even though it is 5311 funding, it is tax dollars that are going toward this.”
Others opposed the resolution completely.
“The transportation department has personally costs us nothing to this point and to head into the next year and trying to come up with $60,000 that we may not have,” Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston said.
“We have been running this program for a number of years and to be very frank, but I have not seen a ridership increase,” Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said. “I hear a lot of comments from our constituents that they see the buses with no one in them.”
Dougal said that was not the case.
“When I started the Champlain South route had 90 riders for the year and we now have 350 a month,” she said.
Dougal added that county employees are one of the main users of the bus system, along with employees at local stores.
Elizabethtown Supervisor Margaret Bartley said that she has noticed the people using the buses.
“There is quite a crowd at 4 p.m. when they come out of work and walk over to Stewart’s and get onto the buses,” Bartley said. “These are our county workers and other people who work here that need this service. When gas is where it is at and these people are making $8.50 an hour, then it is a struggle.”
“There are people driving 40-50 miles a day over to Vermont and working for $8.50 an hour and no one is providing a ride for them,” Scozzafava replied.
Dougal said that ridership could further increase if staffing hours were changed at the nursing home.
“If the people purchasing the Horace Nye Nursing Home changed the hours from 7-3 to 8-4, then we could potentially have a lot more riders,” she said.