Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Warren County agrees to fund bus merger of Glens Falls Transit into CDTA

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

The Warren County Board of Supervisors on May 11 approved a resolution to support merging Greater Glens Falls Transit with Albany-based CDTA — Capital District Transportation Authority.

A Greater Glens Falls Transit bus in front of City Hall last November. Chronicle photo/Mark Frost

“This was the right thing to do,” Board Chairman Kevin Geraghty of Warrensburg told The Chronicle.

“The City of Glens Falls can no longer do it on its own. Warren County certainly can’t get into the bus service. CDTA is a proven provider. They’ve been doing this since 1970.”

“It shows, we all try to work for the better, the good of the county,” he said.

The County will fund the merger by annually contributing “one quarter of one percent of all of all mortgage recording taxes over $10,000.” The county said that generates from $800,000 to $1.5 million annually.

The mortgage tax will not go up, Mr. Geraghty explained.

Rather, the .25 percent increase that the board enacted in 2008 will now go to CDTA, not the County’s general fund.

“You always have concern about losing direct revenues,” Mr. Geraghty said. “But this had to happen.”

He said “the much bigger concern” the County has is over Governor Kathy Hochul’s plan for the state to intercept federal Medicaid funds that until now have gone directly to counties.

Some horse-trading

Some Supervisors — especially those up-county — first balked at the county paying for public transportation that is at least currently focused in Glens Falls and Queensbury, plus Lake George and Bolton in the summer months.

Still, the resolution passed unanimously.

There was some unofficial horse-trading. Board members informally agreed to help up-county requests for adding cell towers — providing both financial support and help navigating Adirondack Park Agency regulations, to bring cell service into hard-to-reach pockets.

“It’s otherwise too expensive for us,” said Frank Thomas of Stony Creek at Thursday’s meeting. Deb Runyon of Thurman and Craig Leggett of Chester were among those in agreement.

Michael Smith of Johnsburg said he hopes public transportation could come to the up-county communities, for tourism or serving senior citizens.

NYS must pass law

The transit merger requires a change to the New York Public Authorities Law.

Assemblymember Carrie Woerner has already introduced the resolution.

State Senator Dan Stec requested the County pass its resolution to merge before he introduces his bill in the Senate.

The county called Thursday’s Special Meeting to do so before the end of this legislative session.

County Administrator John Taflan noted that Glens Falls is one of just two municipalities in the state still running solo public transportation systems.

He said he communicated with the four other counties in the CDTA system — Albany, Saratoga, Fulton-Montgomery, Rensselaer — “and they all had glowing things to say about how CDTA is responsive to the community, and leans into the needs of each community.”

Glens Falls Mayor Bill Collins told the Supervisors that GGFT is down to just one maintenance person, who comes from CDTA, south of Albany, already.
They’re short nine drivers, even before the summer season, the mayor said.

“Last year, CDTA gave us a bunch of drivers. We’d be shut down now if not for Carm” — Carm Basile, the CEO of CDTA — sharing drivers, Mayor Collins said.

The plan is to maintain current routes, with potential to add more, “and certainly connect with Saratoga,” Mr. Basile told the Board. Decisions about adding routes are “based on demand,” he added.

“We link people and communities to economic opportunity,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 42 years. This is personal to me.”

CDTA has 750 employees, Mr. Basile said, “and even we are 10 percent short across the books.”

Among those making public comment, Gary Thornquist of Lake George RV Park said, “as the voice of private business, this is the only way forward.”

Mayor Collins noted in passing that the Greater Glens Falls Transit was a creation of the late Ed Bartholomew in 1984.

Local tab for bus system will jump from $176,000 to maybe a $1-million

Glens Falls, Queensbury, Lake George and eight other municipalities together contribute $176,000, about 3.5% of the Greater Glens Falls Transportation’s annual budget of approximately $2.3 million, said GGFT Director Scott Sopczyk.

Glens Falls and Queensbury are the two biggest contributors, at $59,000 and $61,000 respectively. State and federal government funds pay the rest.

Under the deal by which Glens Falls Transit will merge into the Capital District Transportation Authority, Warren County has agreed to pay $800,000 to $1.5 million annually — whatever amount is generated by a quarter percent of the mortage recording tax.

Why should local officials agree to pay so much more?

Mr. Sopczyk says, “The local contribution here is exceptionally low.”

He said similar municipalities such as Ulster County pay “much more” — $2.9 million annually, or 53.9% of the budget, in Ulster’s case, he said.

“What that means is we’ve been short for many years,” Mr. Sopczyk said.

He said Glens Falls Transit has not been able to update to modern technologies, information systems, “even maintenance, because we did not have the resources. We also don’t have the driver pool, staff, supervisors.”

“This will bring us up to speed with other municipalities,” he said.

Once the deal is completed, ideally before the end of 2023, Mr. Sopczyk said, those local town and city GGFT contributions will be eliminated.

“We understand it is a big cost to Warren County,” said Board of Supervisors Chair Kevin Geraghty of Warrensburg. “It’s the only way it could be done. The only other options were no service, or for us to join CDTA.” —Cathy DeDe

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