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Feb 18, 2009 12:57 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Board places road construction projects under microscope

Feb 18, 2009 12:57 PM

The budgeting policies of Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Bill Masterson—and the status of his department’s $50 million road reconstruction project—were the main topics of discussion this week during the first of a series of meetings aimed at cleaning up the town’s capital budget mess.

The intent of Friday’s meeting, which was also attended by new Deputy Supervisor Bill Jones and Environmental Facilities Manager Paul DiMaria, was to assist Town Board members in determining the status of 2008 and 2009 capital projects pertaining to the Highway and Waste Management departments. Because Town Supervisor Linda Kabot recently issued a memo freezing all new capital accounts following the discovery of a $250,000 discrepancy in the capital budget—initially said to be $19 million—the Town Board is trying to figure out where last year’s projects stand so they can determine which ones can be approved this year.

The most controversial project discussed Friday was the town’s $50 million road reconstruction program that was originally supposed to be financed over 10 years, at $5 million per year, starting in 2000. Mr. Masterson said he received only $5 million a year for the first few years and only $3 million a year for the last three years.

On Friday, Mr. Masterson told the Town Board that, ideally, he would like the full amount of funding—$5 million—to complete necessary road improvement projects this year. “Just to repave a road costs about $80,000 to $90,000 per mile,” Mr. Masterson said. “And we have 450 miles of roads in this town.”

Of the $3 million authorized by Town Board resolution for Highway Department projects last year, only $1.8 million was actually borrowed, with the remaining $1.2 million in bonds still unissued, according to town officials. Mr. Masterson explained that the remaining funds were never borrowed because of the dramatic rise in the price of asphalt. He said the companies contracted with the town were losing money for every ton of asphalt they put down due to last year’s skyrocketing oil prices.

Although the town had contracts with asphalt companies and could have forced them to do the work, Mr. Masterson said doing so would have resulted in the loss of jobs and financial hardships for those businesses, which include Rosemar Construction Corporation in East Moriches and South Fork Asphalt Corporation in Southampton.

“Last January, when I bid, the price of asphalt was $306 a ton,” Mr. Masterson said. “In September, it had jumped to $758 a ton.”

Additionally, Mr. Masterson said that by delaying non-essential road repairs he will end up saving the town money as the price of crude oil, one of the primary ingredients in asphalt, has since dropped from a high of more than $100 per barrel to about $34 per barrel.

Mr. Masterson said he also needs money to purchase new equipment, adding that he could defer $250,000 of the $750,000 he was requesting for 2009 until 2010. For this year, Mr. Masterson said he could get by with $500,000, plus the $94,000 in funds left over from 2008, to buy new equipment.

Things got a little testy between Mr. Masterson and Town Councilwoman Sally Pope when she began questioning whether or not the Highway Department could do without the new equipment, arguing that other towns are freezing purchases of new equipment.

“Most of our equipment is 20 to 25 years old,” Mr. Masterson said, adding that he tries to maintain a 10- to 15-year lifespan on his vehicles so they retain trade-in value.

“Will buying new equipment help to get the leaves picked up?” Ms. Pope asked.

“Well, you tell me when it stops snowing,” Mr. Masterson responded.

“It stopped a week ago,” Ms. Pope said.

“My concern is road safety,” the highway superintendent said, “not leaves. We’ve had 11 snowstorms this year. In my opinion, we shouldn’t even be picking up leaves.”

Ms. Pope later said that her main concern is the budget. She said the town should not be spending money on new equipment unless those purchases are necessary. Ms. Pope said she has not ruled out the purchase of new vehicles in 2009.

The councilwoman added that she was troubled by Mr. Masterson’s reasoning for not completing road projects last year due to the rise in the price of asphalt.

“He says that even though we had a contract with these companies and could have forced them to do the work, it would have caused losses and hardships for them,” Ms. Pope said. “I’m not aware of all the facts, but I’ve been in sections of town, particularly Flanders and Hampton Bays, where the roads are really in bad shape.” Ms. Pope, who lives in Remsenburg, said she thinks that equal services are not been administered throughout the township.

Ms. Pope said she planned on referring the matter to the town’s Ethics Board. “We don’t want these companies to go under,” she said. “But if we release them from a contract, then we are doing them a favor and we should get something in return.”

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So the town did not get its roads paved because it would have cost the paving companies too much money. Wow! Who does our superintendent of Highways work for, the paving companies or the people? I invite everyone to see how much money is donated to Bill Masterson's campaign account.
My favorites are the thousands of dollars from companies up the island. This kind of pay to play here in Southampton must end! ...more
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Feb 17, 09 4:59 PM
Way to go Councilwoman Pope! The leaves on my street were just recently picked up. They caused flooding problems & one accident that I know of. When the snow plows finally came through, they couldn't clear the road because of all the piles of leaves & sticks, so they cleared a narrow winding path only. If fire trucks had to get through that mess, they never would have made it.
By Ms. Jane Q. Public (147), Southampton on Feb 18, 09 8:58 AM
Everyone wants to be the first to have their leaves picked up. It can't work that way and with the numerous snowstorms that we have had, it is only reasonasble to see that there were delays in picking the leaves up. WIth all of 6 weeks on the job, it would behoove Ms Pope to get to know the Town Highway workers and get their outlook on things. Ripping into the Superintenant may look good in front of your NYC Dems living in the Hamptons, Sally, but they don't vote for you. They just fund your election. ...more
By Terry (380), Southampton on Feb 18, 09 1:28 PM
Terry, you specifically mention Pope's contributors. Have you looked at the campaign donations to our highway superintendent’s campaign account (address above)? He gets huge donations in years that he is not even running for office. He then spends the money. Please look at all of the money that he gets and who is giving this man so much money. Then read the article about why he did not pave our roads even when he had contract prices locked. He was helping the paving companies who donated to him. ...more
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Feb 18, 09 7:42 PM
Bill Masterson has been a drain on Southampton for years...he is the pawn of Richard Blowes
By rabbit (65), watermill on Feb 19, 09 9:37 AM
Let's see -- the roads don't get paved, the leaves don't get picked up, the money doesn't get accounted for, and the highway superintendent doesn't know when it's stopped snowing. Sally Pope and Anna Throne-Holst seem to be on to something. Next: the Ethics Board. Stay tuned.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Feb 24, 09 11:59 PM