Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said a move to reorganize the highway department and place a referendum on the November ballot to make the elected highway superintendent an appointed position might be shelved, after beginning discussions of the department's future with Highway Superintendent William Naughton.
Last month the town board voted to gauge resident response to the proposed reorganization by setting three public hearings for this month to meet a board of elections deadline. Petrone said the changes would allow for cost savings, better management of equipment and personnel, and the elimination of redundancies.
"We've discussed a few possibilities of maybe attaining similar goals without making organizational changes," Petrone said at the start of Tuesday's town board meeting, addressing about 200 residents who showed up to speak at the hearings.
Naughton, in office since 1988, said he hopes the two officials can come to an agreement.
"I don't know where this might go," Naughton said. "But it's better than not doing anything; it's better than fighting."
Petrone said he expects to meet with Naughton Thursday. Petrone said with improved efficiencies as much as $3 million could be saved, but that he wants bigger savings without cutting personnel.
The public hearings were to consider eliminating the elected highway superintendent post and making it an appointed position, eliminating the general services department, and creating in its place a department of public works.
The hearings were combined into one and about 28 residents spoke, mostly in enthusiastic support of Naughton and passionate opposition to abolishing the elected position. "Why would I want to hand over my right to vote to the town board," asked Cynthia Paterno of Cold Spring Harbor. "What would make me want to do that?"
Elected highway superintendents from East Hampton, Shelter Island, Smithtown, Southampton, Southold and Riverhead towns also spoke against eliminating the elected job. Four residents said the referendum should be put before voters.
"The status quo can't solve it," said Phil Dalton, an East Northport resident critical of the fact Naughton usually runs unopposed. "This proposal does solve the problem and nothing I've heard suggests otherwise."