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Town Board passes resolution requiring highway superintendent to pick up loose leaves

The Riverhead Town Board passed a resolution last Wednesday “to direct and require highway superintendent to perform leaf pickup” at similar schedules “as performed for the past decades for the benefit of town residents.”

The move is the latest in the ongoing dispute between the Town Board and outgoing highway superintendent George “Gio” Woodson on the issue of leaf pickup.

Mr. Woodson, who did not seek reelection this fall and exits office at the end of this year, has maintained that leaf pickup is not a highway department function and that the Town Board should pay for leaf pickup from its general function if it wants the service.

He has said in past meetings that it would cost about $250,000 to do leaf pickup. He said no other highway department on Long Island still picks up leaves on the curbside. He also raised concerns about where the leaves would be taken after they are picked up.

The Town Board vote on the resolution was 3-1, with Catherine Kent, the only Democrat on the board, voting no, and with Councilman Tim Hubbard absent. Ms. Kent leaves office at the end of this year after losing in a run for supervisor.

Mr. Woodson, a Democrat who has held the position for 13 years, did not attend the special meeting and could not be reached for comment.

His deputy and successor, Mike Zaleski, did attend the meeting but did not comment. 

Mr. Zaleski was the Republican candidate for highway superintendent and won election to the position. He takes office on Jan. 1. 

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and council members Frank Beyrodt and Ken Rothwell voted in support of the resolution. 

Ms. Aguiar asked deputy town attorney Anne Marie Prudenti to speak on the issue. 

“As far back as 1968, the then Town Board and the then-highway superintendent discussed not only the commencement of loose leaf pickup but cost impact to the Highway Department budget,” Ms. Prudenti said. 

The resolution states that “the records of Town Board meetings dating back to the early 1970’s to the present reflect that the Highway Department did perform the function of loose leaf pickup and, moreover, that the Highway Department budget reflected costs for not only personnel to perform this function but the purchase of equipment and material to perform loose leaf pickup, including but not limited to purchase of a leaf vacuum truck in 2000 two dump trucks in 2018 and a dump truck in 2019.”

The resolution says that the Highway Department has provided leaf pickup services for decades. 

Finance Administrator Bill Rothaar said the financial records show that looseleaf pick up has been done by the highway department. 

“We need to provide the services,” Ms. Aguiar said, adding that senior citizens “need desperately” for the program to restart.

Mr. Rothwell said the town also needs to establish a schedule of when the leaves are being picked up. 

“This is a safety issue, with cars sliding and people falling on wet leaves,” Ms. Aguiar said. 

“I am shocked at the way Mr. Woodson’s name has been disparaged,” said Ms. Kent in voting against the resolution. “Mr. Woodson has stated for a year now that he does not want to pick up leaves.”

Mr. Bayrodt said he shared Mr. Woodson’s concerns about where to take the leaves, although he supported the resolution. He said of Mr. Woodson, “He’s still a good buddy of mine and he has done a wonderful job throughout his career.”

Mr. Rothwell said Mr. Woodson was invited to Wednesday’s meeting but did not attend.