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Lewis County may remove club discount for ATV permits

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County officials are getting sick of an ongoing feud between local all-terrain vehicle clubs and their regional association over membership fees collected along with trail permit sales.

So much so that they may stop collecting the fees for clubs altogether, establish a single permit rate schedule with no club discount and pay clubs only for completed trail work.

“Hopefully, it will stop all the bickering, and we can move forward,” said Board of Legislators Vice Chairman Charles R. Fanning, R-Copenhagen.

However, some club officials are not happy with the proposal, arguing it would remove any incentive to become a club member.

“To me, what they said to us is, we don’t care about the local clubs anymore,” said Neil H. Pepper from the Black River Valley 4 Wheelers, Brantingham.

Mr. Pepper argued the clubs have been active in maintaining trails and county residents should be getting some break for use of the trails.

“We paid for the trail system with our tax dollars,” he said.

While a supporter of the permit system, Mr. Pepper said the proposed change has prompted he and other club members to consider not buying permits, riding only on opened roads where a permit is not required.

ATV Association President Joseph Z. Onyon also suggests a permit boycott on the organization’s website, but that was in response to legislators’ prior decisions to fire former Trail Coordinator Robert C. Diehl and give clubs, not the association, membership dues through the permit program.

Mr. Onyon said he would support the proposed switch, depending on how it is implemented and what expenses are allowed for reimbursement, but is more concerned about a perceived lack of focus in the trail program.

On Thursday, the board’s Economic Development Committee, of which Mr. Fanning is a member, approved a proposal that all riders — regardless of membership status — would be charged $65 for their initial permits, with a multipermit rate of $20 per additional machine remaining in effect.

Legislators at a special meeting at 5:15 p.m. today in the second-floor chambers at the county office building are expected to set a public hearing for their March 5 meeting on a local law that would implement the permit proposal, allowing lawmakers to vote on it then.

Permits now cost $40 for an ATV owned by a member of a club in the Tug Hill Adirondack ATV Association and $80 for a machine owned by a nonmember, although nearly all riders have become club members to qualify for the discount.

The county contracts with the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce to sell ATV permits, with the chamber receiving a 10 percent administrative fee.

During the first years of the program, riders who bought permits could simultaneously join the club of their choice for a $25 membership fee. The proceeds were then distributed to the clubs, with $24,050 collected in 2011.

However, the program was altered for the 2012 season so the chamber would offer memberships only for the Tug Hill Adirondack ATV Association, not specific clubs, and the association — which had consisted of representatives of three Lewis County clubs and four others based outside the county — collected $18,975 from it.

Chamber officials have said the switch was made primarily because of how difficult and time-consuming it was to verify riders were members of individual clubs and that things went much smoother last year.

However, the move was criticized by many legislators who said it was improper because the board never approved it, and perceived by many club members as an attempt to effectively get rid of them in favor of the regional association.

Legislators in December held an air-clearing session for the ATV factions and last month reversed the change in collection procedure after determining it had never been formally approved by either the committee or full board.

The new proposal would set aside $25 of every permit for trail maintenance.

“That way, we know 100 percent of that money will be going toward trails,” said Legislator Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners and Economic Development Committee chairman.

Clubs that undertake trail work could submit claims to the county and be reimbursed from the ATV trail fund, with the new trail coordinator to administer the program, he said.

While the change would take effect upon legislative approval, 2013 permits already purchased — now nearing 200, according to chamber officials — will be honored under the current setup, Mr. Lucas said.

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