CAIRO — The town board is investigating allegations that Highway Superintendent Robert Hempstead misused town funds to pave county roads.
Hempstead responded by defending the “handshake agreement” and describing it as “mutual bond and trust.”
A complaint on social media earlier this week triggered the investigation and the town board is consulting with legal counsel and the New York State Association of Towns on the matter, Town Supervisor Daniel Benoit said Thursday.
“Whether [Hempstead] may face criminal charges or be held personally liable to repay the town is under investigation,” Benoit said.
Benoit declined to say if Hempstead’s job is in jeopardy.
“His term ends in December and he is not running for re-election,” Benoit said.
Hempstead is accused of working on county roads without having a shared services agreement with the county.
Benoit confirmed Thursday that a written shared services agreement is a requirement for such work and that the town of Cairo does not have one with the county at this time.
“We have in the past had them when it comes to removing snow off of Main Street, which is (Route) 23B, in the winter,” Benoit said.
The town is not pursuing an agreement for blacktopping at this time, Benoit said.
During this season, Hempstead allegedly patched portions of County Route 85 and County Route 41 and worked on a bridge over the Shinglekill Creek, Benoit said.
Hempstead said he had a verbal agreement for the work performed with county’s foreman, James Wilson.
“No one has shared-service agreements with the county,” Hempstead said. “We share services every day but there is no shared-service agreement per se. There is nothing sinister about it; it’s a kinship. A reciprocal type of thing.”
Hempstead recalled that for Cairo’s various paving projects last year, he received assistance from Greene County, Durham, Catskill and Athens.
The county has assisted Cairo in delivering large equipment, Hempstead said, and when another department needs spare parts, they can visit Cairo’s “boneyard.”
“It’s a standing handshake agreement,” he said. “We have a mutual bond and trust.”
Hempstead said he also feels he has a responsibility to maintain Cairo despite whose road it is.
“Just because the county can’t get to fix something, why shouldn’t it be fixed?” he said. “We all drive those highways. Those are my residents. This is what small towns do.”
Benoit welcomes those with tips of other incidents to report it to the board, he said.
Cairo’s highway department’s budget is approximately $1.7 million, Benoit said.
“We are trying to determine what, if any, remedy there is with respect to the unauthorized work by the highway superintendent,” he said.