A contentious issue on whether the Riverhead Highway Department should be responsible for loose-leaf pickup — and how that should be funded — took center stage once again Thursday as Supervisor Yvette Aguiar vowed to solve the issue once and for all.
“I am not leaving here today until this matter is finally resolved,” Ms. Aguiar said at the start of the discussion during the Town Board’s work session.
Highway Superintendent George “Gio” Woodson argued the highway department should be compensated for the work to pick up leaves from town residents, although board members countered by saying the money is already in the highway department budget for 2020, citing the town’s financial administrator, Bill Rothaar.
“They have equipment to do this, they have the employees to do this,” Mr. Rothaar said. “And then whatever supplies, bags and so forth, is included in the highway fund’s budget to be doing this for at least the last 30 years.”
Mr. Woodson disputed that claim.
“It was done mostly as a courtesy but it has gotten out of control,” he said.
The Town Board agreed on Thursday that starting next year the highway department would no longer be responsible for the loose-leaf pickup, falling in line with some other East End towns (Southold Town’s Highway Department will collect bagged leaves only starting Nov. 16). In early October, when the matter was last discussed, the Town Board agreed to continue the pickup for this season since it was already too far into the season for a change.
Ms. Aguiar said the Town Board is directing Mr. Woodson to continue picking up the leaves for this rest of this season.
Whether he does, though, remains to be seen. Mr. Woodson said all he’s asking is “to be compensated.”
“Six years I’ve been saying this,” he said. “And I came to you guys in February and say the same thing. Then you wait until October, because you probably thought, ‘Well, Gio is going to bow down to us.’ It’s not happening.”
Mr. Woodson did not immediately return a phone call following the meeting to elaborate on how the highway department will proceed. Ms. Aguiar suggested the possibility of hiring an outside service do it and bill the highway department.
Speaking to the board, he pointed to money the Town Board has earmarked toward improvements for downtown parking lots and said the town should be able to find the funds. Councilman Tim Hubbard clarified the money for parking improvements was bonded out and not money that was found.
“We certainly are not going to bond money to do leaves,” he said, pleading for Mr. Woodson to “play ball” one more time to pick up the leaves this season. Mr. Woodson had previously said it costs the town about $250,000 per year to pick up loose leaves on the curb.
Mr. Woodson, offering to cut the price in half, said he was meeting the board halfway and that it was “the best I could do.”
“It’s on your shoulders then,” Mr. Hubbard responded. “There will be no loose-leaf pickup as far as I can see because I don’t know how we can force him to do it.”
He later added: “As far as I can see, it’s been in your budget Gio, so I’m not going to pay twice for a service that’s already there.”
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said if Mr. Woodson refuses to pick up the leaves, the Town Board “will need to figure out how to get the money to do it.”
“People are already putting their leaves out in the road,” she said. “The roads are not going to be a safe.”
Mr. Hubbard responded: “You better grow a money tree.”
Part of the original issue the Town Board faced was where to dispose of the loose leaves. Councilman Frank Beyrodt said the problem was solved when
Town Engineer Drew Dillingham said his department could handle the leaves.
“That was the bone of contention from Gio when he first came in, is where are we going to put the leaves,” Ms. Giglio said. “We’ve gotten over that hurdle. Now it’s that it’s not funded. And the financial administrator says it is funded.”
The Town Board went into executive session following the public portion of the meeting to discuss with deputy town attorney Anne Marie Prudenti whether it’s a service the highway department should conduct and whether an outside service could be hired.