Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine Wednesday recommended an evaluation of the town's snow removal equipment and a five-year capital program to bring the highway department's fleet up-to-date -- part of a series of recommendations to improve performance in the much-maligned division.
Asked whether the capital program would raise taxes for homeowners in cash-strapped Brookhaven, Romaine said, "Taxpayers are less concerned with paying bills than getting their roads plowed. . . . If you want something done, there's a cost to that."
Residents and town officials criticized the highway department after town plows struggled mightily to clear roads of as much as 3 feet of snow dropped by the blizzard earlier this month. Romaine was criticized for vacationing in Jamaica during the storm.
In a news conference Wednesday, Romaine said he planned to ask the town board to issue a request for proposals to study the highway department's equipment, age and mechanical history, and what it needs to handle more than 2,100 miles of town roads in Brookhaven. The study would lead to the five-year capital program, Romaine said.
The supervisor also recommended the highway department reduce insurance requirements for snowplow contractors and raise pay rates for those with heavier equipment, bringing Brookhaven in line with other towns.
Romaine encouraged Councilwoman Kathy Walsh and Assemb. Dan Losquadro, the candidates for highway superintendent in a March 5 special election, to endorse his suggestions.
"Most of the recommendations, I've been saying all along," said Walsh, an independent running on the Democratic line. She said she would support increasing taxes, if needed.
"I think we have to do a real assessment and present what we need. We need to look at all options in the most fiscally responsible way," she said.
Losquadro, a Republican, did not return calls for comment.
Romaine noted the effectiveness of his recommendations "will depend on the cooperation of the next highway superintendent."
"This is about taking charge and stepping forward," he said.
Private contractors should be required to have a transponder or GPS smartphone so the highway department can track their progress while plowing, the supervisor said.
Romaine also suggested state lawmakers pass legislation to raise the annual cap on heavy-equipment purchases from $1 million to $2.6 million.
"Our ability to replace equipment is extremely challenged by this cap," he said.
Democratic Assemb. Ed Hennessey, a former Brookhaven Town Board member, said at the news conference, "I'm certainly in Albany looking to help local government and Brookhaven is at the top of the list."
Romaine told an audience that included nearly a dozen residents that the town mapping system has been updated, which will allow the highway department to pinpoint where residents are having snow issues.
Mastic resident Pat Rollins, 49, said, "I'm pleased with the recommendations."