GUILFORD -- Last month, during a discussion about widespread, community use of a town-owned emergency bus, Selectboard member Anne Rider had two questions.
"Are we in any way taking a risk by allowing you to use this?" Rider asked representatives of an alternative school who expressed interest in the vehicle. "How can we assure that this is a prudent move for us?"
As it turns out, those are difficult questions to answer. And concerns about liability have led town officials to consider selling a small bus they purchased just five months ago.
Selectboard Chairman Dick Clark said no decisions have been made, but talks are ongoing.
"It's still up in the air as to what will happen next," Clark said last week.
For a long time, a town-owned Dodge van had sat unused in the town office parking lot. The handicapped-accessible van had been purchased with the idea of transporting special-needs residents in the event of an emergency, but it wasn't much suited for that purpose.
In May, the Selectboard authorized selling the van.
It was replaced in July with a 14-passenger, 2002-model Ford bus purchased with $3,500 in state emergency-management funds.
In order to encourage more-regular use of the vehicle, the town signed memorandums of understanding with Guilford Cares and with Guilford Community Church, where the bus is parked.
There soon was interest in further expanding bus usage. In November, representatives of the I.N.S.P.I.R.E. School for Autism requested permission to use the bus to transport students to the YMCA in Keene, N.H.
Also, a Guilford resident had proposed using the bus for community trips to "regularly benefit Guilford" -- possibly in ways similar to Vernon's use of its town-owned van.
But there were concerns about liability and insurance coverage.
"We have a really clear-cut memo of understanding with the organizations that are going to be using the bus," Town Administrator Katie Buckley said. "And we're starting to deviate away from our memos of understanding in talking about bringing more groups in to use the bus."
Those concerns have persisted, Clark said at a recent meeting.
"There's a major problem with the minibus," Clark said. "It was bought in good faith and used in good faith for a while, but we've hit many, many bumps in the road with who, when and how it can be used."
There is some thought that, for insurance purposes, only a town employee should be driving the bus. That is "not an option," Rider said.
Clark said he and Herb Meyer, Guilford's emergency management director, "have talked about perhaps selling it." But there are no details on any potential sales agreements.
Officials say they would like to keep the vehicle in the community if possible. And Meyer has said he hopes the bus would remain available for emergency use.
"I don't know what we can do," Meyer said. "But we're certainly looking into it."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.