The Southampton Town Board has denied the town highway superintendent’s request to reimburse his department nearly $24,000 for assisting the February funeral of an NYPD detective, a proposal the supervisor characterized as inappropriate.
Thousands of uniformed police officers descended on the streets of Hampton Bays on Feb. 20 for the funeral of Brian Simonsen, 42, of Calverton, who was killed Feb. 12 during a friendly fire shooting in Richmond Hill, Queens.
The NYPD, Suffolk County Police Department and New York State Police assisted the Southampton Town Police Department during the event, although Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the highway department was the only agency to submit a bill.
“Nobody has asked for any reimbursement except for our highway superintendent,” Schneiderman said during a town board meeting Tuesday. “I don’t really know what to say, and I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
The request, made by Alex Gregor in a Feb. 27 letter to the town board, sought $15,335 for labor and $8,353 for equipment for work performed during the service, although the town comptroller's office calculated the bill at $24,122. Comptroller Len Marchese said Gregor's tally should have reflected lower labor costs and higher equipment costs.
Highway trucks acted as blockades and assisted with crowd and traffic control, said Lt. Susan Ralph, a spokeswoman for the town police department.
Gregor, who is waging a primary against Schneiderman, a Democrat, for the Independence Party supervisor endorsement in the 2019 election, accused Schneiderman of politicizing his request. Schneiderman sponsored a resolution on the board’s agenda Tuesday authorizing a $24,122 transfer. The supervisor withdrew his sponsorship, which was then picked up by Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni. All five town board members voted against it.
“I've never heard of someone putting on a resolution to vote no on it,” Gregor said in an interview.
Gregor said he would have used the additional funds to hire part-time employees to pick up litter along the side of Southampton’s major thoroughfares.
He said using the town highway department staff to assist in a special event on Montauk Highway, the state road lined by thousands of officers during the funeral, could be construed as an illegal gift of service to the town. Marchese said he disagreed with that interpretation.
“We did everything we could to help the family and NYPD honor their son, but I have a fiduciary responsibility to watch my budget,” Gregor said.
The highway department has spent about $90,000 of its $400,000 overtime budget this year, Marchese said. It has spent $283,000 of its $775,000 snow materials budget, with another $300,000 worth of purchase orders pending, he said.
Schneiderman noted that Gregor was within his rights to request the money, but said he was “disappointed” with his request.
“I think most entities would have been happy to volunteer,” Schneiderman said in an interview. “You should not try to capitalize on a funeral, particularly for a funeral of a fallen police officer.”