JOHNSBURG - Local businesses and officials are hoping for near Americade-like municipal funding to expand shuttle service from Gore Mountain to North Creek.
The North Creek business alliance has, for three ski seasons, operated a free-to-ride shuttle van in concert with the state-run ski facility in an attempt to bring tourists to the largely hidden business district.
The organization is now seeking $38,000 in county occupancy tax funding for the 2012-13 ski season, said Business Alliance co-founder Joel Beaudin Tuesday night. Occupancy tax revenue is generated by a 3 percent tax on hotel stays in the county.
The requested cash, combined with $10,000 awarded Tuesday by the Johnsburg Town Board, would pay for 49 days of shuttle service during the ski season and would allow for the purchase of a trolley bus that would operate during the spring, summer and fall to ferry train-riding tourists around the community, Beaudin said.
“If I’ve seen any project using bed tax money to help and promote our community, this project is probably it,” said Johnsburg Town Board member Gene Arsenault.
The $48,000 combined bed tax award would rival the $50,000 annually given to the Americade motorcycle rally. Former Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed argued in 2011, after the county Board of Supervisors Occupancy Tax Coordination Committee slashed the shuttle’s funding, the program is as important to his community as Americade is to Lake George.
The county Occupancy Tax Committee awarded $16,000 to the ski shuttle program for the 2011-12 season, which, with its $21,000 total cost, is otherwise funded through on-bus advertising and small contributions from Gore Mountain and business owners.
But there are questions within Johnsburg about how much public funding the shuttle, and an expansion of the service, should receive.
Johnsburg Town Board member Peter Olesheski, who chairs the local occupancy tax award committee, unsuccessfully recommended the town completely de-fund the Brant Lake Taxi-run shuttle. He questioned whether the service, which primarily serves the mountain and just one of the sprawling town’s seven hamlets, has a townwide benefit.
Olesheski’s claim echoes decades of criticism by residents who have argued the town is too interested in its North Creek business district and shortchanges other parts of town.
Main Street business owner Mike Bowers countered a strong Main Street is good for all of Johnsburg because it lures potential second-home owners and strengthens the tax base.
“No one on a ski bus wants to go to Bakers Mills,” Bowers said. “That’s nothing against Bakers Mills, it’s just the facts.”
Bowers said 3,200 people rode the shuttle during last year’s ski season, which was negatively impacted by historically warm, dry weather. That’s an increase of 600 riders from the previous year.
North Creek has, since the 1960s, struggled to get people into its downtown because the state Route 28 bypass carries motorists past the community, leaving many unaware of its existence.
Johnsburg Supervisor Ron Vanselow said the shuttle program’s application for county funding, which will be vetted by supervisors Monday, would be substantially weakened if the town didn’t support the plan.
The Town Board voted 4-1, with Olesheski dissenting, to provide $10,000 in local occupancy tax funds to the shuttle plan. The town legislation also directed Vanselow to find another $3,000 for the shuttle and trolley initiative.
The distribution of occupancy tax, originally designated for tourism promotion, is regularly one of the more controversial annual events in Warren County’s towns.
Lake George businesses have expressed angst that such funds are now being used to pay for invasive species eradication projects in Lake George. Thurman organizations have recently alleged some tourism-related events aren’t funded because of personal disputes with decision makers.
But for Olesheski, continuing to fund something that is unlikely to become self-sufficient for years doesn’t make sense and smacks of unfairness to newer events and initiatives.
“If they can’t support it on their own, maybe it’s time to do something fresh,” he said.