When state officials took $1 million from the snowmobile trail maintenance fund to balance the 2008 budget, snowmobilers said they felt double-crossed.
After all, in accordance with a 2006 agreement with the state to address various trail issues, snowmachine registration fees were raised from $15 to $45 for club members and $100 for non-club members. There was an understanding that all registration money would go toward the program.
But, said Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, whose district includes the Northeast’s contending snowmobile capital Old Forge, the snowmobile fund was raided in April as state officials scrambled to balance and pass a budget.
“We were told there was a $1 million sweep from the Department of Environmental Conservation into the general fund, but it was only later we learned the money came from the trail maintenance fund,” Butler said.
Since April, there has been a cry from various North Country counties and the snowmobiling community to restore the money. The state Senate passed legislation restoring the money, but Butler said when the Assembly adjourned for the summer this week the measure was still in committee.
He and a number of colleagues went to Gov. Paterson’s office this week to present petitions with thousands of signatures from snowmobilers demanding restoration of the money.
Butler said Friday an aide to Paterson was receptive to the campaign and the plea to restore the money.
Butler, noting terms of the 2006 agreement in which the snowmobiling community consented to paying higher registration fees, said of the developments: “Quite rightfully they felt the state was dealing from the bottom of the deck. There was a commitment made and I really feel the state has an obligation,” Butler said.
Butler said maintaining the strength of the dedicated snowmobile Trail Development and Maintenance Fund is a financial and economic development issue affecting the entire state.
He said Old Forge, the Herkimer County snowmobiling hub that he called the capital of the Northeast “if not the nation,” is an important part of the state’s tourism industry.
Fulton County Clerk William Eschler, a member of the Bleecker Snow Rovers Snowmobile Club, said the state’s decision to take the money surprised him. “A dedicated fund should be untouchable,” said Eschler, who said state officials should not take any action that endangers the tourism industry.
A resolution recently adopted by the Warren County Board of Supervisors expressed support for the fund restoration bills in the Senate and Assembly.
The Warren County board said the trail improvements “are vital to rural communities as part of their efforts to grow their local economy.”
Warren County received $59,000 from the state trail fund last winter. County officials said it is unclear how the depletion of the state fund would affect this coming winter’s fund share.
Though last fall the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation allocated $2.8 million statewide to snowmobile clubs performing trail maintenance, agency spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee said the loss of $1 million in the fund will not affect this coming winter’s trail maintenance program.
Larrabee said the per-mile maintenance rates for 2008-09 have already been set. She said the lost money would be absorbed.
This past winter, she said, the state collected $5.4 million from the 128,283 snowmachine registrations. Registrations were down about 2,000 machines from the previous winter, she said.
The $5.4 million was allocated to various components of the snowmobile program, she said, including trail maintenance, law enforcement, insurance, administration and grants.
When registration fees were raised from $15 in 2006, there was an effort to encourage snowmobilers to join clubs.
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Categories: Schenectady County