In the general election Nov. 5, voters in the towns of Macedon and Galen will decide if they want to continue to elect their highway superintendents or make the job one that is appointed by their town boards.
On the face of it, the election appears to be a decision between an independent highway superintendent or one who is controlled by town officials.
Not so, say the supervisors of both towns.
In Macedon, Supervisor Bill Hammond said the issue came up at the request of 21-year Highway Superintendent Dick Roets.
“He came to the conclusion that his job description had changed,” said Hammond. “Dick has grown with the position. He said, ‘You might want to consider this — put a job description together and have people interview and find the most-qualified person for this job.’”
“We do a lot of drainage work now that we didn’t do when Dick started in the highway department 29 years ago,” said Hammond. “There’s a lot of sewer repair. The job has just grown over time.”
In Galen, Groat said the Town Board’s direction is in sharing services with the Village of Clyde, “which has historically favored the appointment process. We currently share services and we want to enhance that. We share the municipal building, the assessor, animal control, the zoning officer, the summer recreation program, vital statistics, road maintenance projects and equipment.
“This is one step to enhance shared services and save tax dollars,” Groat said.
In a press release from Galen, the town said Clyde and the Town Board “were exploring the option of having one highway and public works superintendent for both governments. The estimated cost savings could run between $30,000 and $40,000 annually.”
That same release cites Roets as saying “the responsibility of high-dollar budgets, engineering projects, managing personnel and maintaining public safety is far too important to leave up to the luck of the draw.”
In Macedon, the highway superintendent would be appointed for a four-year term, starting in 2016.
“Once appointed, you would be the highway superintendent until you chose to step down or the board chose to hire someone different — basically the same as a regular town employee. This is someone who serves at the pleasure of the board,” Hammond said.
At the moment, there is no residency requirement for the person who fills the job, but the Town Board could decide to insert that later, Hammond said. He didn’t see the change from elected superintendent to one who was appointed as an exercise in control.
“I don’t look at it as control at all,” he said. “I look at it as finding someone who has the proper qualifications to do all of the jobs that are required. I don’t want to tell a highway superintendent how to do his job; I just want to make sure it’s the right person.”
Hammond said if voters decide to make the position an appointed one, that may or may not mean Roets would go. Two years from now, Roets would be close to retirement age. Groat said he “expected to have the same person (Paul Plucinik) involved” if the town switches over to an appointed position.
Jim Hoffman, chairman of the Wayne County Board of Supervisors, said he didn’t know if what Galen and Macedon were doing “is a trend, but there’s definitely been some interest in the last few years. We looked at doing this in Williamson three years ago. We had an information meeting and decided the people of Williamson were not ready to move forward.”
What did happen in Williamson was that because the highway superintendent also oversees work on the water and sewer systems, he’s receiving a small stipend. “We were contemplating moving toward moving in the direction of a public works department.”
Hoffman said he agreed with Hammond and Groat that highway superintendent positions had gotten more complex, “with more demands to be more efficient, in light of what’s going on with the economy.”
And his bottom line is that, “this is a town issue. The success or efficiency of the position is different in each town and expectations may be different. It’s up to each board and supervisor to read which way to go.”