NEWRY — While working on the March town meeting warrant Tuesday night, selectmen decided to include a request for $10,000 from The Mountain Explorer shuttle bus but not include a recommendation.

The free public transit program between Bethel and Newry takes people to work, to Sunday River Ski Resort to ski or snowboard, and to dinner at restaurants.

Town Administrator Loretta Powers said that according to a letter to the board from Pat Roma of the Mountain Explorer Committee, they requested $5,000 last year at town meeting and Newry voters approved it.

This year, she said, reading an email from Roma into the record, they are asking for a minimum of $10,000 for next year, subject to approval at town meeting, because its funding from the state was reduced.

“As a reminder, the benefits of this service are: reduction of vehicles on the roads, especially during periods of high traffic to and from the ski area, helps attract visitors to the area, benefits area business owners and their employees, also offers a safe and reliable option for tourists and locals alike, daytime and nighttime,” Roma wrote.

Powers said she placed the $10,000 in the budget as a line item, figuring selectmen would tweak it Tuesday night.

When Board of Selectmen Chairman Wendy Hanscom asked if Bethel was also donating to the transit program, Powers said it is and she believes it’s the same amount as Newry.

Fire Chief Bruce Pierce asked for ridership statistics.

Hanscom said the committee has provided those in the past, but nothing recently.

Selectman Brooks Morton had reservations about the higher request. “I guess that’s part of the problem I have with where it is at this point, because it’s all up in the air. You know, there’s no secure funding for it from what we can tell.”

He said he wouldn’t mind putting it on the warrant but wants it separated from the rest of the requests from social services.

Hanscom told Powers to put the $10,000 in a separate article “to see if the people approve it.”

“We don’t want to automatically cut them a check if they’re not going to continue to exist,” she said.

Morton agreed.

“That’s the concern, isn’t it?” Hanscom asked. “We don’t know what their existing ability is going to be.”

At first, Morton suggested placing it on the warrant with a board recommendation that it ought not to be approved, and then hold a special town meeting for the money “once there’s a plan in place.”

Selectman Gary Wight agreed with keeping the article separate, but left to voters to decide.

“There should definitely be some discussion of it,” he said.

That prompted Morton to suggest making no recommendation.

Hanscom liked the idea and instructed Powers to make the funding request a separate article without a recommendation from selectmen.

Hanscom asked Powers to contact Roma and tell him to come prepared to educate town meeting voters about their plan to continue operating the shuttle service.

“I think that Pat said the total cost of the program was around $170,000 a year,” Morton said.

“So unless they get some funding from somewhere, that ($10,000 from Newry) isn’t going to help them very much,” Hanscom said. “But they do get businesses and (Sunday River Ski Resort) to help them.”

“We don’t know what those figures are either,” Morton said.

He said other resort communities have major businesses that supply their own shuttle services and that, perhaps, a private investor could successfully run the program or local businesses could on an as-needed basis.

“During the week they’re still on the same schedule — like this week — and it’s empty most of the time, or one or two people at the most,” Morton said.

Powers said the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce used to run the shuttle service and provided ridership statistics.

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