Board of Supervisors Chair Shaun Gilliland discusses Essex County issues
Essex County, New York is governed by an 18-member Board of Supervisors elected by voters in each town. Willsboro Republican Shaun Gilliland, chair of the board, was in Keene this week promoting the use of shuttle buses to relieve parking issues near popular trailheads leading to the Adirondack High Peaks. Gilliland tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley the four buses, a partnership with the state, are not yet shuttling hikers this season.
Not running yet. We're still coordinating with DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) on the schedule and we have a target start date which will probably be the Fourth of July weekend. But we're still working that right now. As far as the county is concerned we're ready to go as soon as we get some work done on the Ridge Trail Parking Area and things like that. Last year we learned some lessons, safety, you know, safety lessons, when you're dealing on Route 73 with all this traffic and a lot of hikers and things and we have to make sure that the passengers, the hikers who are using the shuttle, are kept safe. So those are things we brought to the table. DEC and DOT (Department of Transportation) they've been very cooperative. So we're going to be meeting again next week with DEC and DOT to finalize the schedule and finalize the little bits and pieces we have to get done before we start up.
What are you seeing across Essex County regarding tourism and hikers going into the Adirondacks?
We see more hiking traffic going on. There has been some efforts to basically spread the wealth out of the High Peaks. There are hiking opportunities all over the Park and all over Essex County that are just gorgeous and not crowded. And we have an effort to try to get people to take a look at those. So we're putting stewards and information down at the A-frame at Frontier Town to get you know, so people will know more areas that they can go to. I think this program here with DEC has supported by buying the buses for Essex County through grant programs, we see this as a countywide pilot program. We want to in the long term expand and tie in other areas, the southern part of the county, getting people out to Newcomb, out to Minerva, some of the more remote areas of the county to take advantage of like, get people to to areas like some of those new land purchases that the state did. So this is year two, I guess, of this program and it's probably year two of our pilot program. Because I think we in the county and DEC supports this effort. We want to make it a bigger one and make it county wide. So.
Now, one of the things that the county and a lot of the towns had to deal with recently was getting all of their budgets together and things like that. How is Essex County's budget working out these days?
It's working well. We have an increase in sales tax revenues coming in. We have an increase in occupancy tax revenues coming in above what we had expected. But it's a lot more expensive for us to be running our vehicles and our snowplows, construction equipment. And so far things are I guess I would say inbounds. They haven't gotten out of bounds yet. We'll have to wait and see how all of this affects us. Asphalt. The cost of asphalt has gone way up. So I say so far so good. We'll see how it goes the rest of the summer.
Well, Essex County relies on tourism too. Are you concerned that the rising cost of not only gas but everything else is going to have an impact on tourism?
Absolutely we've been voicing that issue. Essex County's unique. We're the only county in the state that our dominant economic driver is tourism. And if it gets too expensive for people to come here, and we start to see a drop in our tourism, people coming to visit, it'll be very immediate impact to the economic vitality of the county and to sales tax revenues and other things. We are very concerned about that. So far what I've seen nationwide is there has not yet been a turnaround in the behavior of Americans in buying gasoline and fuel. I don't think that's going to last forever. So yeah we're real concerned about that.
Yeah, especially since Essex County really the best way to get to it is by car.
That's correct the best way to get to it is by car. We don't have an airport and we don't have, we have some rail traffic and some bus traffic but by car and traveling by car. And of course we're the second largest geographic county in the state and to get around you got to get around on a privately owned vehicle for the most part. So yes, it bears watching and I personally am watching to see what happens if Americans start to change their, or New Yorkers start to change their, traveling habits and stay home. And all the economists are warning of that.
Well, Sean Gilliland, the New York State Budget actually provided quite a few investments into Essex County. Number one, how good are those investments for Essex County? And number two will those investments help offset any potential problems if the tourism does start diminishing because of high prices?
Yes to all those questions. A lot a lot of the investments were through ORDA (Olympic Regional Development Authority) and getting ready for the (World) University Games next year, next winter. I don't think that the impacts of those will be affected that much. But I guess moving forward it's just going to be a month by month look to see what happens. I mean that's basically all I can have. We don't, at this point, we don't have a real clear plan B because we're dealing with forces way out of our control and ones that we definitely didn't plan for.
Board of Supervisors Chair Shaun Gilliland noted that Essex County is one of two counties in New York state completely within the Adirondack Park. The other is Hamilton County.