Snowmobilers statewide robbed of $1 million

WILLSBORO Its easy enough to forgive someone for misplacing a few dollars. But $1 million? During the state budget process this year, approximately $1 million included in a dedicated Snowmobile Trail Development and Maintenance Fund disappeared somewhere in the states mammoth general fund. The snowmobile trail fund is supported by money paid by snowmobile registrations and was supposed to be earmarked specifically to snowmobile trail maintenance and upkeep. Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward called the disappearing dollars grand larceny. This is a clear example of why we need serious budget reform, said Sayward. The budget was delivered to us at the last possible moment and this reappropriation was slipped secretly into the budget at the last minute. Three years ago, snowmobilers state-wide agreed to an increase in registration fees under the guise that those dollars would go toward a trail improvement fund. The fund promised to provide snowmobile safety education classes, maintenance to the states 10,000 miles of trail, and enforcement of the states snowmobile laws. These provisions all part of 2005s Snowmobile Rights and Responsibilities Act never stated that the funds had to be used before a specific date. To make matters worse, some snowmobile associations around the state havent been reimbursed for funds spent in 2007. Im still waiting for money from last year, said Jim McCulley, president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club. We spent upwards of $45,000 out of our own pocket, money that the state was supposed to reimburse us for. Now we hear that the money we agreed to raise has been swept into the general fund? McCulley said he is frustrated by the lack of respect the state showed by sweeping the money into the general fund. We made a deal with the state that the extra money would go to trail maintenance fees, he added. What are they going to do with that money now? Buy more state land that they wont let us use? In most cases, money from the general fund can be spent at the states discretion. Sayward noted that this particular instance is a clear violation of the rights of snowmobilers, and called the situation unacceptable. Snowmobilers are forced to pay this fee under the assumption that it will go toward improving their education and facilities, she stated. Instead, the money will be taken from their pockets and spent at the whim of the state. McCulley noted that snowmobile clubs and associations state-wide are generally self-sufficient, and that the funds raised through additional registration fees highlight the willingness on the part of snowmobilers to take their own initiatives. Any group that tries to be self-sufficient in this state gets stopped in their tracks by this government, said McCulley. Its very frustrating in a state where you know money is being blown on state projects when they take money from an independent group and spend it. Sayward said last week that she would do everything in her power to make sure the money is returned to the Snowmobile Trail Development and Maintenance Fund and its rightful owners. As of last week, her office began circulating two petitions, one to lawmakers in Albany and another to concerned members of the public. I am joining together with my colleagues and New Yorks snowmobilers in the fight to return this money to its proper place, added Sayward. To obtain a copy of Saywards petition, visit the Assemblywomans member page at assembly.state.ny.us.

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