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Neighborly efforts and litigation

By David Hulse
January 15, 2014

GLEN SPEY, NY — Once upon another time, the highway superintendents in rural Sullivan County decided that, given limited budgets and equipment, they could mutually save time and money by helping one another with their larger road repair projects.

Take road resurfacing, for example. It’s expensive and all towns need to do it. It often requires equipment, contracted by the day, and if dump trucks from two or three towns fed that equipment in one day instead of two or three, there would be savings. It was something like mutual aid among local fire departments. One hand washed the other and the unwritten policy appeared to work well for many years.

Enter the era of litigation, and times changed. Lumberland Supervisor Nadia Rajsz said the issue came up last summer when Forestburgh balked on the old mutual assistance policy. Rajsz said that Supervisor Bill Sipos called seeking an agreement that protected all the towns against any resulting litigation.

Helping stalled. “Basically, we’re not helping anyone until an agreement gets done,” Lumberland Highway Superintendent Donald “Bosco” Hunt said last week.

There is no joint agreement in place now. Rajsz reported on January 8 that the county supervisors association had recently met to compare the various policies that have since been generated by each town to cover liability issues. Some of the policies looked good, but they did not agree on a common policy. “You don’t get an agreement when you get 15 supervisors together in one room,” she said.

Rajsz said she wanted something simple, covering record keeping and indemnification, to prevent monetary loss.

One problem is that not every town has an operator for something borrowed. Hunt pointed to an incident where a loaned rolling machine was damaged. “They rolled the roller, literally. We don’t give equipment away without an operator anymore,” he said.

And that brings up the question of fair employee pay, since all the towns pay highway workers on their own scale. “The value of labor has to be considered,” Rajsz said.

Rajsz suggested that various town attorneys should gather to work out a simplified solution. She directed town attorney Danielle Jose-Decker to initiate the process.

In other business, following a public hearing and a negative State Environ mental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) declaration, the town board adopted a local law unifying and codifying its local laws. Jose-Decker said the process included cleaning up inconsistencies, as some laws conflicted or repealed others. The resulting code is to be published online.