Mayor Dayton King conducted what he termed a “reality” talk Thursday night with the Gloversville Transit Commission, and said he will have the same discussion Tuesday with the Common Council.
With some other local municipalities dropping their contracts with the city’s bus system, the state considering taking over Medicaid transports and the city still paying about $180,000 annually to support the transit system, King said the bus system is on an “unsustainable path.”
Transit Commissioner Chairwoman Christine Benson said King presented a clear message to the commission that he wants to shut the bus system down.
“I do realize the city is in financial trouble, but shutting down transit is not the way to go,” Benson said.
“A lot of people rely on the transit system,” she said. Benson said the commissioners are already committed to planning a viable future for the system. She said the department is coping with the loss last year of the Johnstown and Broadalbin-Mayfield runs. The Johnstown run, the busiest with 40,000 riders a year, was shut down last fall when the Johnstown Common Council declined to pay a contract increase. Local towns have also dropped their contracts.
King said he did not mean to convey that he wants to close the doors. He said he spoke of the need to face reality and the need to limit bus service to medical facilities, work sites and Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
The city is operating at just $75,000 below its constitutional taxing limit, King said. “I don’t know how we can sustain it,” he said.
He said the commissioners have traditionally played the role of “cheerleaders,” focusing only on how the bus system could be expanded. At its January meeting, he said, discussion centered on proposals to offer free bus service for the annual Railfest, the Fonda Fair and a local holiday festival of lights.
“I was very blunt and maybe a little harsh,” King said of his presentation to the commission. But, he said, he had to convey that the city is eliminating two police positions and four in the Department of Public Works and did not touch the 11-person transit staff.
If future job cuts are necessary, King said, Transit will not be spared again.
Curtailing the 30-year-old bus system “is not something I want to do, but let’s be realistic,” King said.
With last year’s departure of former Transit Director Al Schutz, who is running a bus system based in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, King said he is in charge of the bus system, which he said is operating well under the supervision of transit secretary Phyllis D’Ericco. “I’ve got to give her a ton of credit,” King said, noting that secretary Donna Hillgriegel has also been instrumental in keeping the buses running.
Transit has an annual budget of about $1 million and depends heavily on federal and state mileage subsidies to pay costs.
An estimated 120,000 riders took the buses last year. Fares are $1.50 or $1.25 for seniors. Revenues fall short of expenditures, forcing the city to subsidize about $180,000 of costs last year.
During Schutz’ six-year tenure, the department expanded to 15 employees and from four buses to 14 vehicles — the oldest a 2006 model.
If the city were to close the bus service, a former commissioner said the city would be responsible for repaying nearly $1 million in grant money awarded over the years for buses and a new bus garage.