NEWRY — Town meeting voters Tuesday night reduced the amount they wanted to donate to a public transit service between Newry and Bethel.

After electing Oxford County Commissioner David Duguay of Byron as moderator, voters breezed through warrant articles, approving every one until they reached Article 13. That one asked to see what sum of money they wanted to raise and appropriate for the Mountain Explorer shuttle bus service.

The free public transit program between Bethel and Newry takes people to work, to Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry to ski or snowboard, and to dinner at restaurants. Most of the businesses that benefit from it are at or near the resort or in Bethel.

The Mountain Explorer Committee wanted $10,000, which is $5,000 more than last year, because its state funding had been reduced.

Resident Brad Wight said the service benefits Bethel businesses more than it does Newry businesses.

Resident Steve Wight countered, saying, “Sunday River is the engine that keeps us alive. Without Sunday River, this would be a very different place.”

Pat Roma, a Mountain Explorer Committee member, said that for the past two months, 11,000 passengers have used the service, with nearly 5,000 of them in February alone. He said the committee will more closely analyze how to make it work despite the state shortfall with help from the two communities and area businesses.

A few people objected to paying another $5,000 above last year’s request. After being allowed to speak because he is not from Newry, Craig Zurhorst of Western Maine Transportation explained that they run the shuttle service.

He said they will also request $10,000 from Bethel, which holds its town meeting in June.

“It’s our intention to run the service at whatever we can do it for,” Zurhorst said. “We will find a way to operate it if we don’t get ($10,000 from Bethel and Newry). Bethel and Newry have to decide if they can afford this.”

Asked how they intend to run it if neither town donates the full amount, Roma said they may have to cut back on some days toward the end of the season.

Brad Wight asked if they considered charging customers $1 each and Roma said they had, but then he doubted they’d ever recoup money lost from the state grant.

Robin Zinchuk, executive director of the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, said they’ve been asked to run the service again.

Zinchuk said the ski resort and larger businesses are contributing to the service, but not so much the smaller businesses like they have in the past.

“I’m having trouble OK’ing an extra $5,000 for skiers (using the service) when our town is having a hard time raising money for the education of our students,” one woman said.

Resident Norman Clanton said he had no interest in subsidizing out-of-town people using the shuttle to access bars and restaurants, but would favor keeping those who hit the bars from driving on local roads.

“It’s been a bake sale the past few years to keep it open,” Newry businessman Jim Largess said. He was elected Monday night as a selectmen.

“We are at a crossroads now,” he said. “Do we of the town of Newry want to support the hospitality-driven industry or not?”

“We do know we’ve got a gem,” Zurhorst said. “A lot of people have put a lot of hard work into this. We don’t want to see it slip away and neither does the state.”

After considerably more discussion, the motion to raise $10,000 was amended to $5,000, and that was approved 32-21. However, that was amended to $7,500, which was also approved 32-21, and the article was approved to raise $7,500.

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