Dan Hust | Democrat
The county’s Transportation Center was finished in September, but changing economic conditions have led the county to seek to sell or lease the facility.
County seeks to unload fleet garage
By Dan Hust
WHITE LAKE According to Sullivan County Manager David Fanslau, the county hopes to unload its Transportation Center before it’s even been opened.
Completed in late September, the 9,000-square-foot, 12-bay garage was intended to house the county’s public transportation fleet, along with associated offices.
Built for approximately $3 million with 90 percent federal and state funding, the structure sits on County Route 183 across from the county airport near White Lake.
It’s all finished, including the six ground-mounted solar panels, but Fanslau said the county doesn’t want it anymore.
“The strings [attached to the state and federal grants] were for the county to provide enhanced public transportation,” he explained.
And the past year’s recession has turned that promise into a burden.
“The ability of the county to provide enhanced transportation is going to be challenging,” Fanslau acknowledged. “... I don’t think the county has the finances to provide public transportation.”
So the county has approached the Town of Bethel, knowing it has a need for a new highway barn.
The deal would be for Bethel to either lease or buy the facility, since the county will have to pay back the state and federal governments if the grants are not used for their intended purpose.
“It’s my understanding that Bethel is tentatively interested,” said Fanslau.
Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm confirmed that.
“We believe it would meet our needs,” he remarked yesterday. “It’s energy-efficient, and it’s a nice-sized building.”
Highway Superintendent Lynden Lilley, however, is not so sure.
“It would need fairly extensive alterations to meet our needs,” he said yesterday, citing in particular resized, retooled garage doors.
Sturm, Lilley and Deputy Supervisor Bob Blais took a tour of the grounds this past summer.
“It’s a decent building,” Lilley observed.
But it has about six below-grade acres that he felt are fairly useless for a highway department’s needs, and the town already owns a potential new barn site on nearby Route 55.
The cost concerns both Sturm and Lilley, the latter of whom estimated that the town could build a good-sized highway barn for around $1 million.
No formal sales, purchase or lease offer has been made yet, and Sturm isn’t sure the town board will be ready to move on financing and constructing a new barn in 2010 or even 2011.
“We’re looking at all our options. We’re not ready to make a decision yet, based on the economy,” said Sturm. “Number one, we’d like to see what the county plans for that facility, and we’d also like to review the building a couple of more times with the town board.”
Bethel Assessor Marge Brown is particularly interested in seeing whether the building opens, saying she intends to put it back on the town tax rolls if it remains unused much longer.
What happens if Bethel decides it’s not interested?
“The county has an obligation under the grant to offer enhanced transportation services,” affirmed Fanslau, who’s hoping for an answer from Bethel this month.
In other words, opening and operating the building as designed may end up costing taxpayers.
Fanslau was not employed with the county back in 2002 when the grant was applied for, but he said he considers this issue “a perfect, sobering example” of county officials neglecting to read the fine print of demands attached to such grants.