Forestburgh adopts shared services agreement
Story by Dan Hust
FORESTBURGH October 8, 2013 A sometimes raucous Forestburgh Town Board meeting was abruptly ended Thursday, though that apparently had nothing to do with the argument which dominated the 45-minute gathering.
In fact, the town board unanimously passed a shared services agreement for the highway department after several neighboring towns’ highway superintendents made in-person pitches for it.
Following that vote, the only thing that stopped the meeting was an unrelated spat between two residents sitting in the audience, which escalated until a frustrated Supervisor Bill Sipos suddenly adjourned the meeting.
The town board next meets for a budget workshop on October 9 at 6 p.m., at which time it may conclude some of the business the board would have conducted on Thursday.
Sharing services approved
The town board had been considering a shared services agreement ever since Sipos sent a bill this past summer to the Town of Thompson for the use of Forestburgh Highway Dept. trucks and personnel on a job just over the Thompson-Forestburgh border.
Sipos’ letter exacerbated the already-tense relationship between him and Forestburgh Highway Supt. Dan Hogue Jr. Both men are running for re-election this November (with Hogue having an opponent), but their power struggle has been ongoing for at least the past year.
In response to the letter, Hogue and Thompson Highway Supt. Rich Benjamin (his brother-in-law) drafted a shared services agreement that each town and village in the county could adopt to formalize a “mutual aid” system that has been informally in effect in the county for decades.
Modelled after one used by the state Dept. of Transportation, the agreement would negate the need for billing and would more clearly delineate liability.
The Sullivan County Highway Superintendents Association, which Hogue chairs, recommended its passage, and many towns agreed, with some even saying they would no longer share equipment and manpower unless the other town has the same agreement in place.
Forestburgh continued to hold off, but the issue came to a head Thursday after Sipos sent a $1,327.31 bill to the Village of Monticello for highway services rendered in mid-September.
Monticello Highway Supt. Jim Steinberg is a Forestburgh resident, and he angrily questioned the bill’s figures at Thursday’s meeting.
“I can tell you right now, I’m not happy,” he told Sipos, arguing that a shared services agreement is already in place between the two municipalities.
But that agreement was signed by Hogue, not the town board, which Town Attorney David Bavoso said is necessary for it to be legally in effect.
Steinberg had invited fellow highway superintendents from across the county to attend Thursday’s meeting, and six of them did (in addition to Hogue).
“What are you trying to accomplish?” Delaware Highway Supt. Bill Eschenberg pointedly asked Sipos, saying that Forestburgh was possibly the only town in the county to not yet have adopted the shared services agreement. “... We would all like answers with what you’re trying to prove.”
Sipos deferred comment to Bavoso, who explained that he and Sipos still had concerns about whether the agreement’s language was sufficient to cover all liability issues.
Bavoso agreed that a blanket agreement could cover any mutual assistance situation inside or outside Forestburgh, but he wanted language that would ensure the town’s insurer wouldn’t deny a claim arising from a mutual aid matter. Such a denial could catastrophically impact the town’s finances.
Eschenberg and his colleagues argued that the town’s insurance already covers highway employees and equipment when they’re travelling on a work-related matter outside the town’s boundaries (for example, when driving to Orange County to pick up materials).
Bavoso, however, worried an insurance company could argue that a Forestburgh worker was under the direction of, say, a Thompson official when aiding Thompson, and thus Forestburgh’s insurer might deny coverage.
“I think you’re splitting hairs here,” replied Benjamin.
“I’m just trying to make sure this town is covered legally,” Bavoso explained.
“We’re covered anywhere in the world as long as it’s our driver driving our trucks,” Hogue pointed out, having confirmed that with the town’s insurance agent.
The debate continued a while longer and included the revelation that Bavoso had created a proposed shared services agreement for the town seven years ago, but it hadn’t ever been adopted.
Eventually, Bavoso told the board that adopting the newer shared services agreement would be sufficient as a “stopgap” measure, and that the board could tweak it if they decide it’s insufficient.
The unanimous approval of the agreement garnered applause from the audience.
“You’ve done the right thing,” Eschenberg told the board.