Smithtown has leased five new trucks worth more than $1 million to pick up leaves and brush, but the program for which they were acquired was not implemented this year as planned.
Twenty-one highway workers were scheduled to be transferred to the solid-waste division as part of the 2015 budget to collect leaves and brush with new compressed natural-gas packer trucks, a move that allowed the town to lower this year’s highway tax by $101.92 per house assessed at $5,500, officials have said.
The trucks were delivered in November, but the workers were never transferred, officials said.
Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said the employees weren’t reassigned partly because former Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen, who resigned in October before pleading guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges, was “very uncooperative.”
Vecchio said it also became clear that additional personnel would be needed to oversee the program. As a result, officials opted to keep highway employees in that department, pay for the pickups out of the solid-waste fund — not the highway fund as had been the practice — “and therefore eliminate the need for those extra supervisory personnel.”
Councilman Thomas McCarthy said that although the transfers did not happen, the leaf and brush pickup program still started as scheduled this fall and the new trucks were used toward the program. “It went off without a hitch and the highway workers did a better than ever job,” he said.
Councilmen Edward Wehrheim and Robert Creighton, whose term ends on Dec. 31, said the trucks were a waste of taxpayer money.
“I’m upset on behalf of the taxpayers for this entire debacle that took place,” Wehrheim said in an interview. “This is to me an excellent example about why these types of things should be discussed with the entire town board, because if it were, this unnecessary purchase of equipment could have been avoided.”
The transfer plan came after the town had been audited and it was determined that commercial properties were paying a tax in the road account for leaf and brush pickup services that they were not receiving, Vecchio said. Leaf and brush are solid waste and should have been accounted for via the solid-waste fee, which is only assessed to residents, he said.
The highway department was using pay loaders for the brush pickups, and Vecchio said officials deemed the packer trucks to be more effective.
Creighton and Wehrheim said at least two department heads received $5,000 raises in anticipation of their additional duties for the transfer. Vecchio denied that, saying the raises were contractual.
Creighton also questioned the types of trucks being leased, saying that getting a vehicle that could also be converted to plow snow would have brought more value.
Acting Highway Superintendent Robert Murphy said two of the new trucks are replacing 1988 trucks that had to be decommissioned.
“Any time you get new equipment, it benefits the department,” he said. “Our shop repair workers have the ability to fabricate a spreader to be put on the new garbage trucks, which would give them the ability to be used all year round.”