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Highway department's $900G spending proposal at odds with cost-cutting Town Hall

Riverhead Highway Supervisor Gio Woodson has proposed spending

Riverhead Highway Supervisor Gio Woodson has proposed spending an additional $850,000 from the department's capital fund in the coming fiscal year to replace old and broken-down highway equipment. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Riverhead officials are at odds over the Highway Department’s nearly $900,000 proposal to purchase new equipment for the coming fiscal year while Town Hall officials look to cut spending during the coronavirus crisis.

Riverhead Highway Supervisor Gio Woodson has proposed spending an additional $850,000 from the department’s capital fund in the coming fiscal year to replace old and broken-down highway equipment. That equipment includes a vacuum truck to clean catch basins costing $400,000, a used street sweeping truck costing around $140,000, and replacing two aging dump trucks, which would cost $165,000 and $188,000 respectively.

The capital fund totals more than $2 million and is usually reserved to pay for paving, equipment expenditures and other department needs,

Woodson said June 12 the capital fund had an excess of $746,000 left over in it after a mild winter. With vehicles and other equipment having broken down unexpectedly, Woodson said budgeting to replace them now would help the department keep up with regular operations and get ready for winter.

“Over the years, when I first got into office, I had no money to do anything. I had to buy used stuff to keep the place afloat. Now, through careful spending, we probably have more money than we ever had in the account, and now they’re trying to tell me how to spend my money. I’m an elected official, and the people have known me for 12 years. I don’t spend money like crazy, but I do need to upgrade certain pieces of equipment,” Woodson said.

However, some town board members said they felt uncomfortable with spending on equipment while the town was focused on cost cutting amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said June 10 that the town in May directed all town department heads to limit fund balance transfers, equipment purchases, capital projects, acquisitions, budget transfers and other items.

The current requests, Aguiar added, were made before Woodson had gone through the normal protocols of laying out the department’s finances and other information to the town board or “understanding where we are financially.”

“We all acknowledge that the highway superintendent is an elected official. However, it’s his responsibility to file reports with the town board and receive appropriate approvals from the board before committing and spending taxpayers’ money,” Aguiar said.

Woodson said he would submit his request to the board for a vote at a later time and he hoped the board would approve his request.

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