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Cochecton debates highway superintendent term change

By Linda Drollinger
July 16, 2014

LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — How long does it take to master the highway superintendent’s job, put a personal stamp on the position and demonstrate competency to voters? Those were the questions at issue during the July 9 public hearing before the Cochecton Town Board as it considers changing the Cochecton highway superintendent’s term of office from two years to four years.

Not at issue was current highway superintendent Kevin Esselman’s job performance; the term change request came from Esselman. All of the speakers expressing an opinion at the hearing prefaced their remarks with praise for Esselman’s job performance over the past several years. But each also worried that one of Esselman’s successors might not produce at the same high level.

Local businessman Dennis Nearing, referencing language contained in a handout drafted by town attorney Karen Mannino, asked the board specifically how “a four-year term would be in the administrative and financial interest of town government.... ” In Mannino’s absence, Supervisor Gary Maas answered that he had not yet studied the document, and then turned the floor over to Esselman.

“I came into this job blind,” Esselman began, while explaining that, unlike many of his predecessors, he had not worked his way up through the ranks as a town highway department employee. “And, during a superintendent’s first year in office, he’s stuck working within the constraints of his predecessor’s budget.” Esselman went on to say that it took him a couple of years to get a handle on all aspects of the job and a couple more to make it his own. He also offered that he didn’t think a two-year term was long enough for a good highway administrator to show voters what he could do in office.

Esselman made clear, too, that continuing education and ongoing professional development are integral to the job. In his report on recent attendance at highway superintendents’ school, Esselman revealed that municipalities are being urged to adopt shared services agreements with neighboring municipalities, in part to enable shared revenues from FEMA funding. This could have a direct and immediate effect on Cochecton, as it lends its equipment and staff to neighboring towns cleaning up catastrophic summer storm damage.

Arguably one of the most crucial jobs in town government, the highway superintendent collects the highest salary of all paid town officials. In Esselman’s case, it is currently $40,678.20 per year. [www.townofcochectonny.org/files/Budget/2014%20budget/Budget_2014_A_general_highway.pdf]