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Feb 27, 2013 11:12 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Snow Deepens Rift Between Southampton Town Officials

Feb 27, 2013 11:32 AM

The blizzard that dumped 14 inches of snow on Bridgehampton earlier this month has further strained the already rocky business relationship between Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor and Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and highlighted some of the struggles the two elected officials have had working together over the last three years.

At a work session last week, Ms. Throne-Holst proposed purchasing a payloader tractor and dump truck for the town’s Parks & Recreation Department, so that its employees may be tapped to help clear snow from municipal parking lots around the town following large storms. The equipment would cost about $125,000 to purchase.

The work of clearing the parking lots has traditionally been done by the Highway Department—but after the recent blizzard, Mr. Gregor informed the Town Board that because the lots were not part of his department’s defined duties, it could not dedicate the time and staff to the job without submitting a bill, or charge-back, for the work.

Comptroller Len Marchese said that Mr. Gregor was instructed to do the work, which took at least two crews about eight hours to complete, and submit a bill. But the supervisor suggested that in the long run it might be more cost effective to purchase the necessary equipment for the parks staff and have them do the work.

“We want to get the work done because we have businesses and residents whose needs are not being met,” she said. “Rather than get into this whole charge-back nonsense, let’s just say we’re going to allocate these responsibilities to where we think they will get done. The parks department is saying [they] can handle this.”

The purchase of the equipment would be made with reserve funds from the town’s various parking districts—special tax levies on businesses that benefit from municipally owned lots—and would not have an immediate impact on taxpayers. But Parks Commissioner Chris Bean told the board last Thursday that he does have the staff on hand to do the work without overtime salary concerns.

Councilman Chris Nuzzi questioned whether the purchase of the equipment really was the most cost-effective investment of what he estimated would climb above $200,000 when maintenance of the new equipment over several years was taken into account. He acknowledged that while Mr. Bean said his department could use the payloader and dump truck at other times when they would normally borrow equipment from another department, he was doubtful that they actually needed the additional equipment other than if they were charged with the snow removal.

“There are several different options we can look at before a $100,000 expenditure, I would think,” Mr. Nuzzi said. “You are talking about a $70,000 payloader that is not going to be used on a daily basis, when there are several owned by the town already. It seems that what we are really talking about is a disconnect between the board and the highway superintendent.”

Such disconnects have been common in recent years. On several occasions, the board has resorted to official orders to direct Mr. Gregor in one aspect of his duties or another. Last fall, the board ordered him to resume emptying roadside garbage cans along a county road after he ordered his crews to halt the chore because it was not among their official duties.

Mr. Gregor was not at the work session—he said this week that he was never informed it was taking place, an omission he said he believes to be intentional. “She wouldn’t make me a part of the discussion, despite me being the highway superintendent. She just erodes away the communication, through snowstorms and hurricanes and all,” Mr. Gregor said of Ms. Throne-Holst. “There is money in the parking fund for maintenance activities—it would be easy to assign this to [the Highway Department] and give me the funding source for it. But they’d rather deny me funding, deny me the staff I need, and then say I’m not doing my job.”

While the personalities involved seem to have exacerbated the rifts, the root of the conflicts has clearly been money. Mr. Gregor has complained loudly for years about strict funding constraints placed on him by the board’s annual budgets and said that resorting to charge-backs has been the only way he can keep his department in the black while completing all its traditional duties. Ms. Throne-Holst counters that his budgets have been realistically funded—evidenced by the fact that Mr. Gregor has kept his department in the black each year of his tenure, and built up a sizeable fund reserve—and that the cuts he refers to are primarily due to the splitting of the department into separate highway and municipal works departments when she took office.

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