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Hempstead calls for better communication, more accountability

Hempstead Town employees track the snowstorm and plowing

Hempstead Town employees track the snowstorm and plowing across the town on Jan. 4, 2018. Credit: Newsday / Stefanie Dazio

Hempstead Town released Tuesday the findings of its internal audit into its plowing and snow removal operations for the Jan. 4 snowstorm.

Supervisor Laura Gillen, who voluntarily vowed to investigate the town’s response, had promised to release the report by the end of January but it was delayed 20 days.

The storm blasted Long Island and dumped more than a foot of snow in some parts of the town. Gillen, who was sworn into office on Jan. 1, said after the storm that the town “can do better.” The town has 1,200 miles of roadway.

“I believe that the recommendations contained within this report will significantly improve the speed and effectiveness of the Town’s response during future events and will do so without raising costs or overburdening taxpayers financially,” Gillen wrote in the audit.

The town received about 3,600 snow-related complaints for its operations — with the most coming from residents in Oceanside, Levittown, East Meadow and Franklin Square — during and after the storm, the audit stated.

The report stated that the Highway Department and its commissioner, Tom Toscano, is the main department responsible for snow removal, with assistance from the parks and sanitation departments. The audit recommended that communication be improved between the three departments, post-storm reports be submitted by supervisors and staff members be held accountable for their responsibilities.

The town spent $459,554 in total salary costs for 381 employees in connection with the Jan. 4 storm, the audit stated. Of that, $148,912 was in regular workday salary costs and $310,642 for overtime and part-time/temporary labor. The town has budgeted $500,000 in total for 2018 for overtime and part-time/temporary labor costs.

The audit additionally recommended that employees be canvassed to see if others are qualified to be involved in snow removal and incentives could be offered to do so.

Hempstead has also received 20 notices of claim — precursors to lawsuits — for about $28,800 in damages to vehicles and property alleged to be the fault of the town’s snow plows, the report stated. None of the claims involved personal injuries.

The audit stated that former Town Supervisor Anthony Santino had consolidated equipment maintenance staff to facilities in East Meadow and Merrick. Gillen plans to relocate mechanics and equipment to more locations across the town. She also plans to replace older vehicles; under Santino, some had been removed as they got older but were not replaced.

“In my first two years as supervisor, by all public accounts my administration did a solid job clearing Hempstead’s streets,” Santino said in a statement.

The town has also been using maps that were developed about 50 years ago, and Gillen has directed Toscano to study if the maps are still accurate and how the town’s fleet of different-sized snow removal vehicles could be better used.

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