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Smithtown maps out plan to take over village highway departments

Town to discuss entering into road maintenance service agreements with Village of the Branch, Head of the Harbor and Nissequogue.

Smithtown is considering taking over the highway department

Smithtown is considering taking over the highway department of the town's three villages. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The Town of Smithtown would take over highway maintenance services from its three villages under a plan that could roll out this year.

The plan, outlined in a New York State grant application from Smithtown Public Safety Director John Valentine’s office and letters from the mayors supporting the application, calls for the Village of the Branch, Head of the Harbor and Nissequogue to stop operational and capital funding of highway functions.

Federal highway funding to the villages would be administered by the town, and a portion of village tax dollars would be reallocated to Smithtown’s roughly $30 million highway budget, according to the application, although officials said the amount from each village would have to be negotiated.

In return, the town highway department would add about 32 miles of village roads to the 470 miles it maintains and plows. The $799,982 state grant awarded to the town late last year would buy a truck and salt barn, tablet computers and software to manage complaints and work orders: tools both basic and high-tech for a centralized highway department.

For the plan to take effect, the boards that run each village would have to approve service agreements with the town.

Villages would remain the “primary contact for their residents’ highway complaints, so they can ensure resident buy-in to the consolidation proposal” and keep the “small-town feel” of local government, the grant application authors write.

Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo did not make town officials familiar with the grant application available for an interview, but said in an email that town officials were confident they could “provide the highest quality services at the most reasonable cost to our residents.”

Lee Park, a spokesman for the New York State Department of State, called the proposal “important and significant,” if not precedent-setting. Over the past decade, dozens of Long Island municipalities, school and fire districts have explored or entered into consolidation or shared service agreements.

In Smithtown, better productivity and efficiencies of scale would keep routine and emergency costs lower, on a per-mile basis, than the current system, according to the grant application. Currently, Head of the Harbor runs a three-person Highway Department; Village of the Branch uses private contractors, and Nissequogue relies on the town Highway Department for much of its work. The municipalities already cooperate on some highway projects.

The fiscal impact of consolidation on town taxpayers was not clear in the grant application. Garguilo said in an email that “there is no anticipated increase in taxes,” but did not provide details. Taxes for the 5,000 village residents would drop, according to the grant application.

Nissequogue Mayor Rich Smith, whose village already uses town services for mowing, milling and snow plowing, said it was difficult to calculate the total savings for his village, but he believed they were substantial. A typical bill from the town for roadside mowing might come to $400; and a private contractor’s bill would range into the thousands, he said.

Mayors of Head of the Harbor and Village of the Branch said they wanted more detailed information about costs and benefits before committing to consolidation.

“It’s not that we don’t think this isn’t a great thing to do, but we’re responsible for the residents and highway is the most visible service we provide,” Branch Mayor Mark Delaney said. “We want to make sure on behalf of our residents that we’re giving them the best services we can.”

Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard said he would be hesitant to give up his village’s highway department: “You’re closer to government, and if somebody wants something to be done, they call and get a response very quickly,” he said.

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