While driving along Montauk Highway in recent weeks, Hampton Bays resident Larry Andersen noticed the absence of metal trash cans along his route—and, in some cases, garbage strewn on the sidewalk as a result.
Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor explained this week that his department pulled more than a dozen of the town-owned receptacles from Montauk Highway and Flanders Road, the latter of which is also known as State Route 24, just before Hurricane Sandy hit in late October to prevent them from becoming “projectiles.”
But Mr. Gregor also said this week that he has no plan to return them to their posts.
He said his department does not have the funding—nor is it within its jurisdiction—to maintain public trash cans along county- and state-owned roads. He said he intends to remove all 39 cans from Montauk Highway, which is a county road, and Flanders Road throughout Southampton Town. Traditionally, there have been 15 cans in Bridgehampton, nine in Hampton Bays, five in East Quogue, four in Flanders, and three each in Water Mill and Westhampton Beach.
Funding for maintaining the trash cans has traditionally come from his Highway Department operating budget, which totaled $770,038 in 2012 and will decrease by roughly $7,000 this year. Mr. Gregor said it was a combination of that decrease and the roughly $600,000 slash to his 2013 capital budget that brought the issue to a head.
“We’re not allowed to spend town tax dollars on non-town roads,” he said. “[Town Board members] can double-talk it until the cows come home, but that’s all it boils down to, and I’ve been trying to get this squared away for three years.”
He said he recently solicited the opinion of the state comptroller’s office, and it supports his assertion that without a resolution from the Town Board requiring the highway superintendent to undertake such work, it is not within his jurisdiction to do so. The copy of the opinion he cited is dated October 1991.
In August, Mr. Gregor sent an invoice to the Town Board outlining the amount of money his department spent on various services for the first six months of 2012, including $12,628 for the removal of refuse from trash cans placed along state and county roads within the town, and asking for that amount to be reimbursed. He said he did not receive a reply—or the money.
A memo from Deputy Town Attorney Kathleen Murray to Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Town Comptroller Leonard Marchese that same month states that Mr. Gregor is permitted to charge the town back for the costs of garbage and refuse removal, as well as leaf and brush disposal, as those actions are not within the highway superintendent’s powers and duties, according to state law.
Ms. Murray did not return calls seeking comment this week.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst maintained Wednesday morning that there is money in Mr. Gregor’s operating budget to maintain the trash cans and that Highway Department staff are paid to take care of such matters. She added that Mr. Gregor has received a larger budget than his predecessor, Bill Masterson, who held the post for 20 years, ever received.
“He doesn’t ever want to come talk about anything,” she said of Mr. Gregor, who is up for reelection in November. “These are random decisions that he makes with no heads-up to any of us.”
The supervisor added that she and the Town Board are discussing other options, such as assigning the duty to a different department or passing a resolution mandating that the Highway Department pick up the trash.
Mr. Gregor said the cans often overflow and require emptying during the summer months as frequently as three or four times a week, which means his workers are dipping into overtime to complete that task instead of focusing on storm cleanup or other duties.
Town Councilman James Malone said Monday he was disappointed to hear that Mr. Gregor had no plan to put the cans back in place, but added that he hopes to reach a compromise. Mr. Malone supported the adopted budget, including the roughly 1-percent drop in Highway Department funding this year.
“The superintendent is an independently elected official, and it is within his jurisdiction to make these decisions,” Mr. Malone said. “I respect and appreciate the superintendent’s position, but I would hope there would be another way to find a solution.”
The councilman added that he would not support giving Mr. Gregor additional funding to cover the costs of maintaining the garbage cans. “We haven’t changed the budget dramatically” he said. “Whatever took care of it last year is there this year. I don’t understand that component of it.”