The Poughkeepsie Common Council was scheduled to hold a special meeting the 6 o’clock hour Tuesday evening on whether to fund city buses for three more months. This comes as a citizens group has hired a law firm to get involved amid continuing controversy.
The budget amendment calls for funding city-run bus service through September 2017. Poughkeepsie bus service is slated to end June 30, with Dutchess County adding four routes in the city on July 1. Poughkeepsie Democratic Common Councilmember Chris Petsas was expecting the amendment to pass but assumes Republican Mayor Rob Rolison will veto the measure. Rolison says his veto will likely come first thing Wednesday morning
“I’ll veto the resolution as I did when the council moved healthcare money to continue running the transit system for six months,” says Rolison. “And this is essentially the same thing but they’re putting a three-month timeframe on it and I will veto it.”
Petsas explains why he supports the budget amendment.
“We have seen hundreds of people show up at council meetings expressing their desire to continue with the current bus service, which we believe, the majority of us on the council believe, to be a superior service over the county’s proposed takeover,” Petsas says.
Petsas says he also supports the extension to allow the Federal Transit Administration to review a letter challenging Dutchess County’s assumption of city bus responsibility. The letter was sent last week from a New York City law firm retained by citizens group Community Voices Heard and the New York Civic Engagement Table. The letter cites red flags with the county’s proposed Poughkeepsie routes, saying they would have a disparate impact on minority populations by reducing routes and increasing wait times. Poughkeepsie resident and Community Voices Heard member Darrett Roberts says senior citizens, students, the elderly and people with disabilities especially need the city-run bus service to continue.
“These people have been independent all their lives and the only thing they got left is their independence, and they need these buses. They need these routes to get around,” Roberts says. “Don’t take that away from them.”
“Listen, ultimately if the county does take over, there needs to be some type of transition period,” Petsas says. “And for the buses just to be shut down this Friday and to be parked away and to have the county to come in with really limited public input and very limited public exposure on the new routes, there just needs to be a transition period.”
Rolison says money for the city’s transit system runs out at the end of the week.
“The county has the ability to grow the system. The city does not. And that was one of the reasons that I thought this made appropriate sense to do,” Rolison says. “We need a better transit system in the City of Poughkeepsie, also one that is operated by, in this case will be, Dutchess County government, which has the financial wherewithal to be able to improve it and adjust it as needed.”
Petsas says Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro’s recent remarks in a local news report highlight the need to improve county routes in Poughkeepsie.
“Again, I think it’s very important the county executive admitted, for the first time, out of all these months of fighting with them, is these routes are not going to work in some neighborhoods,” Petsas says. “And I think that’s a significant development and a development that the 90-day grace period would allow us to work on to rectify it.”
“Instead of being useful and productive, Chris and others just continue to throw roadblocks in the way. And really, what we’ve said all along is, work with us to expand service,” says Molinaro. “We know that there are areas that are going to need additional service. We know that there are locations that residents want additional coverage. We want to be able to accommodate them. Work with us to get there.”
Molinaro says the county is ready for additional input.
“We know, through a series of public hearings that we held over the last two months, that there are concerns and needs that still must be addressed. And we’ve committed to the creation of a special advisory committee to our public transit committee so that City of Poughkeepsie residents will have a direct seat at the table to help us continue to expand service and to respond as quickly as we can to expand service,” Molinaro says. “We have agreed to quarterly meetings with the City of Poughkeepsie residents so that we can evaluate any concerns, any complaints, any need for expansion or rerouting.”
And, he says, the county will bring in a professional to work on the service. Meanwhile, Petsas does not know whether there will be enough council members to override Rolison’s veto.