Nearly two weeks ago, the Southampton Town Board debated whether to make the superintendent of highways position an appointed office rather than an elected one. The discussion stemmed from a resolution presented Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, which would place the decision in the hands of the people in the form of a referendum. However, following an unexpected discovery announced at a town meeting on Tuesday by deputy town attorney Kathleen Murray, the town board would have little discretion during the hiring process, due to restrictions imposed by the state department of civil service.
Graboski said the original intent of the resolution was to professionalize the position and “take a look at the process.” She added that this idea has been discussed for several years.
In addition, a 2008 report from the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness recommended professionalizing certain appointed town positions and said the move could lead to more accountability to the town board. A superintendent of highways, the report went on to say, doesn’t create policies, but a select set of skills and qualifications are required of the superintendent.
The board previously believed they would be able to outline the specific qualifications they sought in a superintendent and said the position would have a four-year term, at which point the board could appoint a new superintendent.
However, if the position became an appointed one, it would be subject to the scrutiny of the department of civil service. Murray added that the department classifies the position of superintendent of highways as a competitive position and the hiring procedure would be extremely rigid. The civil service department would outlay the qualifications for an applicant and the applicant is also subject to testing. The department would provide a list of eligible applicants and the board would be mandated to interview the applicants in accordance with their ranking. Under the department’s regulations for competitive positions, the person hired to the position would have a six-month probationary period, however the town wouldn’t be able to establish a four-year term for the post.
“This is taking the discretion away from the town board,” said Murray during a later interview.
At the meeting, Graboski said she would spend the next two weeks confirming Murray’s findings.
“I am certainly not inclined to go with a position like this. I don’t want to hire off a list,” remarked Graboski at the meeting.
Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst added that she felt this was an inopportune time to consider this resolution.
“The timing of this is problematic. We are in the midst of an election cycle,” noted Throne-Holst. “We have candidates who have already put the legwork in. I would say this isn’t the time for us to be considering this.”
Hold on Capital Budget Forensic Audit
On Tuesday evening, Tamara Wright informed the board there would be a delay of the completion of the capital budget forensic audit, which will hold-up the restatement of the town’s 2007 financials and audit of the 2008 financials. The board was discussing the possibility of exempting deficit reduction payments from the five percent property tax rate cap. At a previous meeting, Wright promised to prepare an analysis showing the effect various deficit amounts would have on the individual taxpayer. In the worst case scenario, the general fund would have a deficit of $10 million, the police fund a deficit of $4 million and the highway fund a deficit of $1 million, totaling an overall deficit of $15 million. If this were the overall deficit, though Wright contends this is unlikely, a homeowner whose house is worth $500,000 would pay approximately $167.40 in additional taxes for these debts. A homeowner, whose house is worth $900,000, or the town average, would pay around $301.32 in additional taxes.
Throne-Holst added that the board still doesn’t have a bottom line figure of the town’s overall deficit, a number that is pending the completion of the town’s three key audits.