The Hampton Town Board has decided to stick with an elected highway superintendent after hearing from local residents last Wednesday.
A motion presented by town councilman John Mashak to put a referendum on the November ballot to change how the position from an elected official to a appointed position, failed to gain any traction at last week’s monthly town board meeting.
The board had considered changing the position but the idea seemed to fall out of favor following a public hearing during which an overwhelming majority of the people expressed the sentiment that they would like the position to remain as it has been.
For most, the issue was a matter of political ideology and their right to choose public officials.
“I think the government takes away enough of our rights. You’re trying to take away our right to vote. Enough of our rights have been taken away from us,” Wendy Cram said.
“It should remain an elected position and not an appointed position by an elite few,” another resident said.
The town highway department currently consists of a two-man crew who works under the current highway superintendent, Frank Baker.
Baker, who is 77, has served five consecutive terms, serving as the highway superintendent since 1998. The position is part-time.
The idea was to eliminate the position of highway superintendent and make it a supervisory role, essentially changing the position from that of a public official to an employee of the town.
However, in order to make it a full-time position, the town would have to eliminate one other position in the department, Supervisor Don Banks said.
Many people expressed the concern that doing that could be problematic if one of the employees was sick or on vacation.
Baker also said that some of the jobs can’t be done with one person because of safety concerns, especially if someone was injured and there was no one around to provide assistance.
Others asked about budgetary implications.
“Bureaucracy’s come and go, but when you start your own bureaucracy, it will come and never go,” Bill Gage said. “If we think we will save money by paying someone $30,000 a year it will be good for a year and then it turns back to a bureaucracy and they’ll ask for another person. I can’t see how it’s beneficial to Hampton.”
Banks said he had done some preliminary estimates to determine the cost of such a change and said he didn’t foresee it having much of an impact.
“I don’t think it’s a huge financial savings for the town,” Banks said. “It’s going to be a push.”
Greg Parch was the lone voice in favor of changing the position.
A former town councilman, Parch said the town has very little control over an elected highway superintendent. He said when he was on the board the highway superintendent at the time completed a project that many on the board didn’t agree with, but they were powerless to prevent it.
“The only way to resolve any issues was with the budget. That’s your only recourse,” he said. “You can’t control them as an elected highway superintendent.”
He said if the position was appointed, you can control the actions of the highway superintendent just like a company could control one of its employees.
After hearing from the public, the board chose to vote on the matter.