North East Community Center
NECC gets moving on transportation program
Reprinted with permission from The Millerton News, copyright The Lakeville Journal Company, LLC, 2011.

MILLERTON — The North East Community Center (NECC) is moving forward with plans for a new region-wide transportation program entitled Northeastern Dutchess Transportation Program, thanks in large measure to support from the Sharon-based Foundation for Community Health.

"This program was over two years in the making," NECC Executive Director Jenny Hansell told the North East Town Board at its Thursday, Nov. 10, business meeting. "The Foundation for Community Health decided to address the need for transportation here."

They did so for a total of six towns: North East, Amenia, Stanford, Dover, Washington and Pine Plains.

Currently there are programs like Dial-A-Ride or the Care Car, but those only provide limited service. Dial-A-Ride provides individual municipalities throughout the county one day of service each week, and that costs each town or village roughly $11,000 annually. Under the new program, area residents will be able to access transportation throughout the week and it will cost towns and villages far less money, according to Hansell.

With the Northeastern Dutchess Transportation Program, the community center will be able to provide coverage for all six towns. It will include Dial-A-Ride and Care Car, but with the services of Justin Svingen, Hansell's transportation director, it will also encompass flex service, individual attention and promotion of other transportation available throughout the region. First it needs to figure out where the needs are and what those needs are — be it getting students to classes, people to work, seniors to doctors' appointments, parents and children to daycare, and so on.

"You'd be surprised how many people in this area are without transportation," Hansell said.

This fact is what brought Hansell and Svingen to the Town Board. NECC can't sign the contract; it needs the town to do that.

"We need the town to sponsor it, but not to be responsible for paying for it," Hansell explained.

A town must be the entity that sponsors the bus or buses, rather than the community center. Right now, NECC is asking North East to take on that role. Also of note is a contract between North East and NECC that states the community center is responsible to pay the entire bill for Dial-A-Ride (for which the town of North East has never paid).

"All payments come out of grants," Hansell said. "Additionally, we have also gone to the towns to ask them to contribute in a small way."

The Northeastern Dutchess Transportation Program, in fact, is asking every town that's participating in the consortium to kick in a couple of thousand dollars, if possible, to help fund the program. Whether they do or don't won't impact their service, Hansell stressed. Dover has contributed about $4,000, while North East has contributed about $500; they'll both receive equal treatment.

Grant funding

Grant funding is key. The community center has a $67,000 grant to help cover costs for the first year, which is estimated to cost about $70,000, according to Hansell.

And there are other grants. NECC has just received a new $212,000 Freedom Grant; it has another nearly $300,000 grant for the next two years; and it's just learned of another possible $75,000 grant.

"There's so very little risk to the town to say it will sign up and sponsor [us] because we already have these grants," Hansell said.

The issue is that after the first few years, some of those grants might dry up — that's when the towns and villages served by the Northeastern Dutchess Transportation Program will have to step up to the plate and help support the service — if they feel the service works for their citizens.

"Hopefully every town will be putting something in over time if this proves to be of value," Hansell said. "My hope is the towns will see the benefit to their people and then shoulder more of the burden down the road. We'll continue to seek grants and fundraise, [but we'll need town support]."

Hansell added she's hopeful the community center will be able to buy a second bus. An additional bus would be especially helpful due to the model the center is working from — "if the bus needs to go [someplace], it will go there." Hansell did admit they're looking at a lot of different models.

"The first year will be trial and error," she said. "We'll do Dial-A-Ride and more door-to-door, but we want to make it more efficient."

"And we'll coordinate with existing transportation to maximize it all," said Svingen.

"That's why getting the towns to sign on is so important," Hansell said. "We don't want people to wait too long [for transportation services]. And there's a lot to work out with this."

Councilman Carl Stahovec asked if the village of Millerton was going to contribute as well. Town Supervisor Dave Sherman said he was under that assumption.

"When we put in $500, I thought the village would kick in money too," he said.

"We will be approaching them," Hansell said. "But their budget won't come up until March; and the village of Millbrook will also be involved in this."

Sherman then said to his board that they did not need to come to a decision at the meeting.

"But," he said, "we agreed to see what we could do to be a sponsor, and said we would continue discussions with [NECC]."

Sherman then suggested the board involve John Merwin, supervisor-elect, Ralph Fedele and George Kaye, councilmen-elect, in the conversation; all three men were in the audience at the Town Board meeting that night.

"I think, generally speaking, there is interest in participating and getting a contract [with NECC]," Sherman said, adding that typically with a change in personnel there can be some reluctance to pursue pre-existing issues.

Rather than "drag things on," the supervisor suggested the board meet again for a workshop at month's end. Although Hansell at first said there wasn't much more to say, Sherman listed his interests.

"I would like to know where funding is going to be as far as grants, what might be our ultimate obligations and your intent to get us set up during the exploratory process," he said.

Hansell then said by the time they regroup at a workshop, hopefully they will have a contract from the county in hand, possibly for two years' time.

Sherman said he would like any contracts to include a clause that the town of North East would not be under any obligations to NECC, regardless if the program succeeds or fails.

He then asked Merwin, Fedele and Kaye if they were in agreement; all confirmed they were. It was then agreed that the board will set up a workshop once it hears back from Hansell and more details are in place.