Jeanne Sager | Democrat
THE LARGEST SECTOR of the community represented at Friday’s Council on Governments meeting was the County’s Association of Highway Superintendents. Representatives included, from left, Dan Hogue Jr. of Forestburgh, Brian DuBois of Cochecton, Bernie Cohen of Bethel, Ted Hartling of Rockland and Gary VanValkenburg of Neversink.
Highway Supers Looking For Cooperation
By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO October 23, 2007 Their trucks lined up, cab to cab in the parking lot, the highway superintendents of Sullivan County put out a united front at the Council of Governments meeting Friday morning in Monticello.
Feet clad in workboots, most of the elected officials in charge of keeping Sullivan motorists safe, sat shoulder-to-shoulder in the Legislative hearing room.
Their dedication to one another and their towns was obvious.
During the last flood, as water spread across the roads of the Town of Cochecton, Brian DuBois put in a call to Charlie Hallock in Lumberland, who serves as president of the Sullivan County Association of Highway Superintendents, and Norm Sutherland, head of the Highland Highway Department.
“They didn’t call back to the town board and make sure it was OK to send trucks,” DuBois explained. “It was shoot from the hip. They came, and they stayed until the roads were clear in the Town of Cochecton.”
“There’s not one highway superintendent in here who wouldn’t help another,” said Bill Eschenberg of Delaware, the vice president of the highway superintendents’ association. “At 2 in the morning there’s no ‘Well, maybe.’ They’re there.”
Friday, the men who “really get things done in Sullivan County,” as Forestburgh Highway Superintendent Dan Hogue Jr. said with a grin, were in Monticello to continue discussions that would extend the band of brothers beyond the town level.
Based on a survey of all 15 superintendents, County Purchasing Director Kathy Jones crafted a form for joint bidding on commodities that both the towns and county take advantage of everything from pipe to diesel fuel.
“With volume and competition, we can do better,” Jones explained.
The county’s legal office supplied a draft municipal agreement for the superintendents to review, providing a means for the towns to take advantage of county department of public works services.
There were requests from the crews Rockland Superintendent Ted Hartling pondered whether the county could include the towns in some of its bids.
But the greater concern from the crowd was a need for the county to understand a system that’s worked since time forgot.
“[This agreement] is awful one-sided,” Hogue said. “The towns do an awful lot for the county what we’re looking for here is an end or reduction in the payback stuff.
“We’re all sucking the blood from the same person here,” he continued. “They’re all taxpayers bearing the load.”
The towns currently pay the county when they borrow a piece of equipment or need a consultation on a mechanical problem
But when Hallock gets a call from a little old lady who says the county won’t pick up the dead deer stinking up her house, he doesn’t quibble with her just because it’s in the county’s road.
“This poor old woman was just beside herself, so who did she call?” Hallock asked. “The highway superintendent, and I took care of it.”
Gary VanValkenburg sent his men out to help clean up around the county bridge in Neversink.
It was a courtesy, he said, that can be extended the other way.
“What we’re looking for is not to be charged by the county for little things,” VanValkenburg noted.
When the county parked trucks at the Highland barn for two weeks, Sutherland didn’t send them a bill. But he did get charged for two county employees driving 3 miles to take a look at a piece of equipment.
“That shows how petty it can get, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” Sutherland said. “[The highway superintendents] do things here where one hand washes the other this year, I might do something for Dan. Next year, he might do something for me.”
“We’d like to be able to call up [County DPW Commissioner] Bob [Meyer] and say, ‘We need a truck for a day,’ and have him call and say he needs a truck for the day,” Hartling said. “You’re talking dollar for dollar, but it’s not cash.”
What it is is the old-fashioned barter system, one Legislator Leni Binder pointed out is much simpler than the complicated agreement she tried to make sense of from the county’s legal department.
What can work on a handshake has to be kept simple even if there is paperwork required to cover the legalities of liability, she said.
“If we sit down, we figure it out, I think it’s doable,” she said.
Binder suggested allocating a portion of DPW services to each township each year similar to the allocation of landfill space made each year by the county to cover litterpluck and clean up days.
Two weeks into the new legislature back in 1996, Binder said the county was hit by a disastrous flood that called for all hands on deck.
“Nobody asked who was doing it, who was paying for it,” she recalled.
Politics went out the window, as they should now, Binder explained.
The highway superintendents agreed that times of emergency have run smoothly because of the unspoken agreements to help one another and they commended Meyer for improving the DPW’s part in that.
In times of disaster, the county has been there for the towns and vice versa.
What’s on the table now is an extension of that relationship into non-emergency territory.
“The county shouldn’t subsidize the towns, and the towns shouldn’t subsidize the county,” Hogue said. “I’m not someone who wants to owe anyone, but I think a give and take thing is good.”
County Manager David Fanslau said there are examples in place that can work including the mutual aid system used by fire districts, who work off tax dollars as well.
What’s important is to create the system and have it in place to cover all situations so superintendents don’t have to return to their town boards for additional permission before acting or for Meyer to turn to the Legislature.
“Like Dan, I’ve always been reluctant to call on the county because I don’t want to owe anyone anything,” Eschenberg added. “We’ve had ice conditions on a county road, and I’ve told one of the men ‘Just take the GradAll and get the water back in the ditch,’ because if you take the time to call the county and dilly dally around, someone’s going to to get hurt.”
That’s where the blanket agreement would come into play, Fanslau explained, something that could be approved at the beginning of each year by the boards in each township.
The county would like to see something in place by next year, Fanslau said.
Meyer, who tries to attend each meeting of the county association, would then sit down with the superintendents to find out how both entities can best be served.
Mapping the Logistics of Dept. Cooperation
By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO With hundreds of miles of roads criss-crossing the county, there’s a lot on the table for highway crews looking to work together.
Although its still in draft form, the county department of public works and town highway superintendents have zeroed in on the big issues.
A look at what’s up for discussion:
• Joint purchasing Sullivan County Director of Purchasing Kathy Jones has put together a list of commodities the various towns could bid for with the county.
The list runs the gamut from asphalt to uniform laundry services.
Jones has also made available the state bidding information for bulk gas, diesel, fuel oil, guide rails, pipe and steel.
County or state bid isn’t always the cheapest option, but buying in bulk can help.
Some highway superintendents said they’d like the option of going with the bid procured by the county if it’s cheaper than bids they’ve received through the town process.
• Borrowing equipment Towns already work together to limit the length of rental on pavers and rollers during the summer paving season.
Currently, the county rents out a portion of its equipment when towns need it, but highway superintendents are looking for a cost break.
Town of Fremont Supervisor Jim Greier said his highway superintendent, Joe Niero, told him it was more cost-effective to buy a broom from the Town of Lumberland’s bone yard and make it work than to rent one from the county.
Greier thanked the county for lending a bulldozer during the flood, but said the town opted to rent one from H.O. Penn because that was a cheaper option than paying for a rental from the county.
• Sharing cost to buy equipment Towns have discussed joining forces to purchase the costly pieces of equipment each department uses.
The idea is a mixed bag, according to the superintendents.
“It works great until it breaks down in my town and it’s got $200,000 worth of repairs and who’s going to pay for it?” Callicoon Highway Superintendent Jim Hess said. “Or I need it in February and you need it in February.”
“Say you mow your roadside once a year and I mow mine three, I’ve got the mower three quarters of the year,” Bill Eschenberg of Delaware added.
That’s why highway superintendents so often ask for the big ticket items because they’re used, Eschenberg said.
“When your highway superintendent stands in front of the town board asking for something, he’s not Christmas shopping, he’s in dire need!” he explained.
Hess said towns bearing the cost burden is “a nice idea.”
“But it doesn’t work,” he said simply.
• Combining maintenance duties The county already pays each town for snow and ice control on a portion of its highways.
What could be in the works is a means to extend that into the summer.
If the county is paving one of its roads in an area where a town is at work, perhaps the two could join up to reduce the duplication of services.
Town highway superintendents said they often do other work on county roads because they’ve been asked by their constituents.
Accounting for it all is hard.
Forestburgh Highway Superintendent Dan Hogue Jr. said there’s just no way to send the county a bill for two men with one truck for one hour putting 58 cents worth of cold patch in a pothole on a county road to protect their plows during the next snowstorm.
And no highway superintendent who has picked up a deer on a county road is going to send it over to the county for disposal.
• Bridges The county maintains all town bridges and the approaches.
The towns, on the other hand, often help the county with the areas around them, according to DPW Commissioner Bob Meyer.
Meyer is excited by the concept of working more closely with the towns with the idea of cooperation focused on the benefit down the line to the taxpayer.
“We have a variety of points where we can work together,” he noted.