Town to purchase new highway truck, balance deficit

A Southold snow plow out in a February storm. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)
A Southold snow plow out in a February storm. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)

When the next big snow storm hits, the Southold Town highway department will likely have a new truck capable of working as both a snow plow and a sander in its fleet.

The Town Board agreed during its work session Tuesday  to bond nearly $180,000 to purchase the truck. Board members also agreed to transfer funds from both the general fund balance and the highway fund balance to cover a nearly $90,000 deficit in the highway budget due to the additional sand purchases and overtime expenses related to this year’s harsh winter storms.

Resolutions regarding the fund balance transfers are on the agenda for tonight’s Town Board meeting.

The moves come after Highway Superintendent Vincent Orlando appeared before the board Tuesday requesting to transfer nearly $270,000 to cover the deficit and purchase the truck.

Mr. Orlando said the purchase is the first step in his plan to “rotate the fleet,” replacing older trucks that need costly repairs with newer ones.

“Some of our trucks are more than 15, 20 years old,” he said. “If I can rotate and sell off the old vehicles we can also see some savings.”

Mr. Orlando’s plan to use reserves to pay for the new truck was ultimately shot down by the board after being questioned by Supervisor Scott Russell, who said the town has historically borrowed for heavy equipment purchases and to pay for such a purchase with reserves might not be the best use of town funds in the era of the 2 percent property tax levy cap.

Town comptroller John Cushman explained during the meeting that Mr. Orlando, who took office in January, had hoped to use the reserve funds for this purchase and bond for a second truck in the near future. To bond for both trucks, the town would increase its debt service by about $80,000 per year over the next five years, Mr. Cushman said. Councilman Bill Ruland, who also serves as deputy supervisor, suggested the town only bond for the first truck now and raise the issue of purchasing a second truck at a later date.

The call to replace highway trucks in Southold Town is nothing new.

Former highway superintendent Pete Harris had requested two new $110,000 dump trucks in the 2014 budget, but that was scrapped from the adopted budget. That move did not sit well with Mr. Harris, who confronted the board about it in October at one of his final work sessions with the board.

“The single biggest issue I have is the rolling stock; it’s in bad shape,” Mr. Harris said. “Not for nothing, this Town Board really needs to step up to the plate. When the police department needs vehicles they seem to be getting their vehicles, but when Old Man Winter hits the fan or a superstorm Sandy hits the fan, we don’t have reliable rolling stock to get these roads open.”

Mr. Russell said at the time that he’d like to see the highway superintendent develop a capital plan for equipment purchases, a sentiment he reiterated to the board and Mr. Orlando Tuesday.

“Under the previous superintendent we said, ‘Look, we’re not just gonna start allocating money for equipment,’” Mr. Russell said. “If that’s not how we did it for the other guy, Vinny needs to understand we made these rules and we’re going to stick to them.”

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