GERMANTOWN — A public referendum will determine if the job of town highway superintendent becomes an appointed position.
Highway superintendent in Germantown is an elected position, but next weekend registered voters will decide on a local law that would change the position from elected to appointed.
“We looked at this a couple of years ago, looking into doing something like this when the current superintendent retires,” Town Supervisor Robert Beaury said. Richard Jennings is the current highway superintendent.
“He’s retiring this year. And we felt, the current board as well as the prior board, we were unanimous both times, that this would be a better value for the people because elected officials aren’t responsible for being on a job on a regular basis, and we felt that a civil service employee, along the lines that the county has would be better for the town going forward.”
Voting will take place June 19 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Kellner Community and Youth Activity Building, 54 Palatine Park Road, Germantown. A yes vote will approve the change to an appointed position A no vote means the position will remain elected.
“There’s this misconception out there, an appointed individual versus an elected individual,” Beaury said. “We put in our letter that our current superintendent, for example, makes $61,500. On top of that you’ve got medical benefits, you’ve got Social Security contributions and contributions to the New York State Retirement System. So that employee was in our budget for a little over $91,000 a year.”
An appointed position will earn about the same amount, or a little less, Beaury said.
“A new employee would pay more towards their share of the medical premiums, and depending on their level of experience they might be making less than what the superintendent that we have now is making,” Beaury said. “This individual we have now has more than 30 years experience, so we would probably see a small savings.”
If the local law passes, the change would go into effect Jan. 1, 2022.
If the local law is approved by voters, the Town will work with the state and Columbia County Civil Service to determine the job classification, after which a committee will be named to interview all qualified candidates for the position.
More than 95 towns in New York state appoint their highway superintendents as of 2020.
New York state Association of Town Superintendents of Highways president Alex Gregor said there has been a growing trend of towns looking at switching the position from elected to appointed.
The idea of switching the highway superintendent position from elected to appointed has been cropping up more often, Gregor said. Last year at least seven towns put the proposed switch on their ballots in New York state. All seven propositions were defeated, and all the positions remained elected.
There are 933 town highway superintendents in the state and more than 90% of them are elected, Gregor said.
“Town boards love control,” Gregor said. “Supervisors and the town boards love control. There is a notorious rub between elected highway superintendents and the town boards. Highway superintendent does his job and takes care of the roads, bridges and culverts and looks out for the safety of the motoring public and pedestrians, town boards want control, they want to get campaign contributions from the vendors that the highway departments use.”
The highway department budget in many towns is one of the largest budgeted departments, Gregor said.
“I’m really disappointed with Germantown for not waiting until the general election when most of the people who would traditionally come out to vote,” Gregor said. “This has been a new development that towns try to get in a special election and they work to try to get their people out to vote, rather than the honorable way of waiting until the November election when everyone comes out, and everyone has a chance to vote.”
Last month the Town of Austerlitz held a special referendum to determine if the position of highway superintendent would change from elected to appointed. Voters defeated the proposition, 125-76.