Tupper Lake buses need a lift

TUPPER LAKE – Earlier this year, Tupper Lake Central School District’s in-ground bus lift hoisted its last school bus.

On Wednesday, Superintendent Seth McGowan held a meeting in the district’s bus garage to detail four options for dealing with the broken machine. The school board is expected to vote on the issue at its Monday meeting.

Two school board members, Trish Anrig and Jane Whitmore, were present, along with Director of Transportation Kevin McClear, Business Manager Garry Lanthier and Buildings and Grounds Superintendent Pierre St. Pierre.

The lift is essential to maintaining and repairing the district’s fleet of 16 buses, which are subject to mandatory state Department of Transportation safety inspections. Five buses are up for inspection now, and six more will be soon.

Since the 20-year-old, in-ground lift is broken, the district has been running buses to Saranac Lake for general maintenance and repairs. McGowan said each trip costs the district about $165 in labor and $30 in fuel, and will cost the district about $5,000 a year.

“We’ve already made several runs (to Saranac Lake) this year to use their lifts,” McGowan said. “DOT schedules those inspections, and you need to be there for them. If they don’t pass, or they’re not available for inspection, they get taken off the road.”

According to McClear, buses in Tupper Lake begin to need regular repairs after five years of use. After seven years, he said it’s cheaper to trade them in for new buses.

McGowan said purchasing an above-ground lift is more practical because the bus garage is aging, and an above-ground lift would be easier to move to a new location.

At the meeting, McGowan highlighted four scenarios for dealing with the situation.

The first is to do nothing, which means no outright spending for the district. Inaction would still cost the district about $5,000 a year to use Saranac Lake’s lift.

“You can see that after three or four years, that would be a $20,000, un-reimbursed cost to the district,” McGowan said.

The second scenario is to purchase a used lift. The estimated cost of that lift, including installation, would range from $40,000 to $60,000.

Used equipment is not eligible for state reimbursement and does not come with a vendor-backed guarantee. Payment for a used lift would have to be made this year and would put the district over its enacted budget.

The third scenario is to purchase a new lift without a revenue anticipation note. Under this scenario, the district would have to pay $80,000 this year to buy and install the lift, which would again put it over its enacted budget.

The Education Department would reimburse 78 percent of the cost next year, and McGowan said the remaining costs could be factored into the 2014-15 budget. The final estimated cost for the district is $17,600.

The last scenario is to purchase a new lift with a revenue anticipation note, which would add about $5,000 interest to the total cost. The revenue anticipation note would offset the cash flow, meaning the district wouldn’t have to exceed this year’s budget to get the lift. The Education Department would reimburse 78 percent of the cost next year, and the remaining costs would be factored into the 2014-15 budget. The estimated total costs of this scenario are $85,000, with a final estimated cost of $18,700 to the district.

McGowan added that a new lift would be covered by a manufacturer’s warranty.

A resolution for the revenue anticipation note has to be approved by the school board and submitted to the Education Department. McGowan said he has every reason to believe that department will pass it as an emergency provision.