The recent Guest Commentary critical of the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society and its finances was a deliberate attempt by Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates and writer Jim McCulley to mislead the readers with out-of-context and outdated facts gleaned from its Freedom of Information Law request access to ARPS' 2012 not-for-profit tax return and its accompanying 2011-12 management report, as rendered by an outside accounting firm.
This Management Report covers a two-and-a-half-year period and addresses any deficiencies the accountants uncovered during their initial 2011 audit and explain what, if anything, the ARPS Board of Directors did to remedy these findings. Mr. McCulley cites excerpts from four recommendations, including "lack of controls and reconciliation procedures relating to ridership and ticket sales." Yet in Mr. McCulley's contention that the "true story emerges," he totally ignores the next sentence on corrective actions taken, which clearly states the ARPS Board of Directors agreed with the findings, signed a long-term processing agreement with Vendini Ticketing System in March 2012 and successfully implemented the new system in time for opening day in May 2012. The other three deficiencies were also addressed in mid 2012 by upgrading our bookkeeping staff and hiring an executive director in July 2012, and appointing a qualified treasurer in 2013.
The conclusion by the accounting firm as of its Nov. 15, 2013, filing is, "We did not identify any deficiencies in internal control over compliance that we consider to be material weaknesses."
It is to ARPS' credit that its Board of Directors recognized the problems coordinating three separate operating centers (Lake Placid, Thendara and Utica), heeded the accountant's critique and corrected the problem immediately. Why would anyone need to deceive the reader by resurrecting a problem from three years ago that was long since corrected?
But wait! There's more. The article's headline banner says the auditors question ARPS' viability going forward, but Mr. McCulley again ignores the next sentence in the report that states, "However, in mid-2012 the Organization reorganized its management staff by adding an Executive Director position and replacing the Finance Manager. The new management team is closely monitoring the revenue and expenses of the Organization. By the end of 2012, the Organization fully satisfied one loan and in 2013 consolidated the remaining long-term debt, which resulted in a reduction of monthly debt payments and increased cash available for operations. The implementation of new Ticketing software has substantially increased management's ability to monitor and analyze sales and income. The software provides revenue detail that the Organization is using to better optimize profits."
ARPS has just closed out its 2013 season, and its finances are in better shape yet by instituting good management procedures and continued strong ridership. If not for the sabotage perpetrated by an anti-train zealot on ARPS equipment, which caused a loss of 11 operating days locally, the north-end operation would have exceeded previous year's volume. North-end ridership in 2012 was 23,000 riders, in direct contrast to Mr. McCulley's observation of empty or nearly empty cars.
Additional distortions include Mr. McCulley's aversion that "taxpayer subsidies have been keeping the operation alive." Webster's dictionary defines "subsidies" as monetary gifts, and what Mr. McCulley has a hard time understanding is that any New York State Department of Transportation funds received by ARPS are certainly not gifts, but rather no more than an exact reimbursement for any corridor maintenance performed by the tenant (ARPS) for the rail corridor owner and landlord (NYSDOT), a standard procedure in almost all leases. This covers general maintenance to the railbed, infrastructure, bridges, culverts, structures, etc., and yet Mr. McCulley has no problem with this very maintenance benefitting his snowmobile club and other enthusiasts for unimpeded access to corridor use throughout the winter months.
Mr. McCulley again uses the misnomer "state funding" to describe a federal grant of $991,872 earmarked for the outside contractor that reconstructed the line from Carter Station to Big Moose in 2012. In the management report, this was correctly labeled as a "pass-through" from the federal program, through NYSDOT and ARPS, and ultimate payment to the Pennsylvania contractor. ARPS did not garner one penny of this pass-through revenue, but Mr. McCulley construes this as 41 percent of our 2012 revenue stream. NYSDOT benefitted as landlord to these improvements at no cost to them.
Among his other "newfound secrets," Mr. McCulley references board members' loans to ARPS to "maintain operations." It is true that our Board of Directors is a committed group of railroad and community activists, as well as businessmen, who have no problem with supporting their beliefs with both donations and/or loans. America is full of comparable stories of like-minded groups that persevered over the naysayers and became successful entities within our country, starting with George Washington and our forefathers, who gave personal monies without thought of compensation to clothe and arm our Revolutionary soldiers in their quest for freedom.
ARPS has been forced to operate under draconian conditions, such as a 30-day-only lease for all these years. Imagine what could be done with a long-term lease, as was originally recommended in New York state's 1996 unit management plan, along with the development of connecting trails to local points of interest. This common-sense answer to the pending hearings decision would implement the original plan and attract private capital patiently waiting in the wings, and even give the ARTA group the trails they espouse.
To paraphrase news commentator Paul Harvey, "Now you know the rest of the story," as opposed to the original version by Mr. McCulley that was more akin to National Enquirer headlines than to a commentary in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, which in my opinion to date has always been fair and balanced in reporting both sides of this issue. It is important to correct these misconceptions since, in a more recent letter to the editor, ARTA President Joe Mercurio reiterates these same distortions in his letter to Sen. Betty Little. Thank you for allowing us to correct the misleading innuendos.
Wayne W. Tucker lives in Rainbow Lake and is a board member and executive committee member of ARPS.