Essex County Budget Officer Thomas "Tom" Scozzafava (Moriah).
A request for new busses brought serious discussion about the future of the Essex County bussing program July 16.
During the finance, tax reduction and mandate relief committee meeting, County Manager Daniel Palmer requested a resolution to purchase five new busses for the Department of Transportation, ORDA and the village of Lake Placid.
Two of the busses, which would have 90 percent of the costs covered through federal and state grants, would go to the county, while two would go to ORDA, who will pay $61,000 of the estimated $170,000 local share. The final bus would go to Lake Placid.
In requesting the funding, which is not allotted in the 2012 county budget, Palmer said that it could be seen as a referendum on the program.
“In some sense, if we do not support this we are probably looking at a shutdown of the bus program,” Palmer said. “They are under very strict DOT requirements. If you do not keep up with the replacement of these busses the DOT will tell us that we cannot run them. This is the resolution to show that you are willing to pay the local share.”
Board chairman Randy Douglas said that while he believes the transportation department and its director, Nancy Dougal, had worked hard to remain cost effective, the county should look at ways to cut the costs down.
“Is there a way that we can cut back on this and maybe only do two vans?” Douglas asked. “$89,000 scares me.”
Palmer said that he felt the busses were needed as they were used by many members of the community, including several county employees.
“I think that it has meant a lot to a lot of people,” Palmer said. “There was a lot of discussion that if it started to cost the county money, then we should back out of it. There are a lot of county employees that rely on those busses.”
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said he did not see many on the busses that traveled through his town.
“I hardly see anyone on the bus from Elizabethtown to Ticonderoga,” Scozzafava said. “We need to take a hard look at this. We did it with the nursing home and we have to do the same with all of these things.”
Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston said that he agreed with Scozzafava’s assessment, except when it came to the ORDA Ski Shuttle.
“I can't support putting that kind of money into the program,” Preston said. “We have to take a hard look at the routes and those with low ridership have to go away. There are very few times that people in Wilmington are riding those busses other than the ORDA ski shuttles.”
Elizabethtown Supervisor Margaret Bartley asked if the county could take out a loan in order to finance the new vehicles.
“If we did not get 90 percent of the funding for the busses, wouldn't we go out for a loan. Couldn't we do the same for only $80,000,” she said.
Palmer said that, most likely, whoever sold the busses to the county would want the money up front.
Tax roles set
Dawn Belden of the real property department reported to members of the committee that the final assessment roles are completed and online.
“Please make sure that you post a link to the roles on your town websites,” Belden said.
As part of the report, Belden also took time to thank the members of the county board of assessment review for their service —board chairman Randy Douglas, county treasurer Michael Diskin and clerk to the board Deb Palmer.
The county BAR oversaw a number of grievances, including overseeing the town of Essex procedure, which was highlighted by the contested 2011 assessment of Salim “Sandy” Lewis.
Belden also said that the tentative equalization rates for the county were announced, with each town being equalized at 110 percent.