BROADALBIN - A month after the town's embattled highway superintendent indicated he was looking into seasonal layoffs of Highway Department employees, he recently old the Town Board he wants to add part-time workers to the department, in part because an ongoing legal issue has put his department behind schedule.
Lance Winney, whose six months as highway superintendent have been punctuated with disputes within his department, heated public exchanges with town officials and a legal battle initiated by the town supervisor, told the Town Board on Tuesday he wanted to hire part-timers to handle mowing grass because the road crew is needed on other projects.
Winney proposed paying part-timers $15 per hour - more than 25 percent above the $11.75 rate Fulton County government pays its seasonal employees who handle lawnmowing and similar duties.
Supervisor Joseph DiGiacomo said Winney can hire employees within the parameters of the department budget, but he said he didn't agree with the pay rate and wasn't sure why the town suddenly needed the extra help.
"We always did it without these part-timers before. What's happened now?" DiGiacomo asked.
Winney said the department has several seasonal sandblasting, crack-sealing and ditch-digging responsibilities that have been accumulating since spring. The department also is preparing to have up to about 5 miles of town road repaved, including Honeywell Corners Road, which is deteriorating beneath the blacktop, Winney said.
"We probably should have been into it, but we had other issues, like destroying town property," Winney said, referring to his removal of trees while trying to remediate a flooding problem at the town barn in March.
DiGiacomo sought a preliminary injunction, saying Winney was illegally removing trees without consent, and a judge ordered the work halted. The Town Board retroactively approved seeking the preliminary injunction three weeks after it was filed, on the condition that the town and Winney would resolve the issue without attorneys.
The legal action has cooled, but the town has not yet received a stipulation of discontinuance from the court, Town Attorney Kara Lais said.
The town also has not decided whether to pay Winney's fees associated with the action and will take the issue up at its meeting July 10. Winney submitted about $4,387 in legal expenses, as well as more than $1,400 in bills from engineers and forresters Winney consulted during the case.
Nearly half of Tuesday's three-hour long public session was devoted to Highway Department concerns, as Winney presented the Town Board with a memo of suggested action items, and the board presented him with his most recent cellphone bill, which was about five times the normal amount.
The monthly bill totaled $213 - higher than the typical $40 to $50 range, DiGiacomo said, as Winney used 1,700 minutes, which included personal calls. Winney said he uses the town phone "like it's my own" because he doesn't want to carry two phones.
Winney is the only town employee with a cellphone, DiGiacomo said.
He said he'd be agreeable to turning in the town phone and using his personal one for all calls, but the board instead approved a policy that would require him to cover additional cellphone costs of more than $50.
The board also agreed to seek bids for repaving 3.2 miles of Ridge Road and Hopewell Corners Road, which is 2.1 miles long, along with a narrow, 300-foot roadway between Route 29 and Stevers Mills Road known as Old State Road.
However, it declined to pass a resolution that would have given Winney direction on how he should verify employees' claims of accrued sick time, as well as another resolution that would have directed Highway Department employees to wear safety equipment while they work on roads.
"I just want it to be seen in the [meeting] minutes that I asked," Winney said.
Councilman James Wheeler, the town's liaison to the department, said the town shouldn't need resolutions to enforce state safety laws, and also said he'd meet with Winney this week to review payroll records to evaluate the need to audit sick-time accrual.