Snowmobilers Miffed At NY Budget Maneuver

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About $1 million collected to maintain New York snowmobile trails has been "swept" into the state's general fund to balance the budget, along with $436 million from other special funds and agency programs.

Since 2005, higher sled registration fees have been poured into the Snowmobile Trail and Maintenance Fund to support upkeep and enforcement on the state's 10,000 miles of snowmobile trails, along with safety education.

New York Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward decried the switch in a press release headlined "$1 Million Grand Larceny?" "It happened in a huge spending bill, the very last bill to pass. I voted against it because, first and foremost, it was just too much spending; and second because it wasn't clear," she told PressRepublican.com.

She launched a petition drive to reclaim the fund. "Snowmobilers are forced to pay this fee under the assumption that it will go toward improving their education and facilities. Instead, the money will be taken from their pockets and spent at the whim of the state. That is unacceptable. I am joining tog ther with my colleagues and New York's snowmobilers in the fight to return this money to its proper place," she said.

Three years ago, the state hiked snowmobile registration fees from $25 to $45 a year. This year, Gov. David A. Paterson — with the Legislature's approval — "swept" the trail fund, along with millions from other funds, into the state's general fund to raise $100 million to close the state's budget gap. Other funds were targeted toward goals as diverse as neutering animals, improving boater access to water and creating charter schools.

The loss of trail funding comes after a season of multiple snowmobile-related deaths in the North Country, which caused local elected officials to call for increased trail enforcement, PressRepublican.com reported.

State Budget Division spokesman Matt Anderson told the Ithaca Journal the fund was picked because it had a balance of $5.5 million, and only $4.38 million is planned to be spent this year — which will be offset by about the same amount of new revenue.

"Given the fact that there was a substantial balance in the account, making this money available to the general fund would not have an impact on current or future trail-maintenance efforts," Anderson told the Journal.

Jim Jennings, executive director of the New York State Snowmobile Association, said presidents from 236 snowmobile clubs around the state are writing to legislators demanding the fund be returned intact to the budget.

Sayward said the petitions would be hand-delivered to the governor. "Gov. Paterson said if we have any big concerns with the budget, we should report them to him. We'll present him with all of the names on the petitions, officially asking him to reinstate this fund."