A diverse group of concerned citizens — led by local business management consultant Renee Fogarty and including former Yorktown Town Supervisor Susan Siegel — have united to push for a change in the town’s organizational structure from an elected superintendent of highways to a Department of Public Works model.
The committee presented their plan to the Yorktown Town Board Tuesday night and met with reporters beforehand to outline its specifics.
Fogarty, who organized a study in 1995 that explored the issue, said she wants to make it expressly clear that the initiative has nothing to do with current Yorktown Highway Superintendent Eric DiBartolo.
“It is very much an efficiency issue as well as a cost issue. Given the challenges of how to deliver services these days, it’s very important to re-look at how departments are packaged and organized,” she said. “This is an issue that’s been studied and discussed for many years, and we now feel it’s the time to put it up to the voters.”
The group is pushing for the Department of Public Works initiative to be placed on the November ballot.
Siegel said that, if passed, Yorktown would join “larger towns” nearby like New Castle, Bedford, Harrison and Greenburgh, all of which already have the Department of Public Works model.
The committee plans to mount a public relations campaign aimed at educating voters and answering their questions.
Siegel said she hopes that will address the lack of information regarding the proposed switch when it was last placed on the ballot in the mid-1970s.
“We’re taking a lesson from the past, and that’s why we’re going to do a lot of research,” she said.
Though one reporter raised concerns he’d heard from town board members that an appointed department head would be more politicized than an elected highway superintendent, committee member Linda Miller said she sees it the opposite way.
“Is the town planner political? Is the town engineer political?” she asked. “It’s almost like the definition — political, elected, accountable to the voters.”
Yorktown Supervisor Michael Grace didn’t address the issue in great detail when Fogarty raised it during the public comment portion of the board meeting.
“It’s not a bad idea to have the conversation, and there’s certainly two sides to this issue,” he said.
Former Town Supervisor Aaron Bock, also a member of the committee, said it’s important for voters to put DiBartolo aside in their consideration of the issue and focus on larger organizational structure and future cost savings.
“It transcends the particular occupant of the highway superintendent office. It’s not the person, it’s the way the town government is set up,” Bock said. “It’s not a referendum on any particular person. It’s a referendum on the set up.”
Siegel said the initiative is especially important, given the perilous economy and the state’s new restrictions on local governments.
“If we’re going to continue to have the 2 percent tax cap, every penny counts,” she said. “If you can’t find savings, and no one wants to exceed the tax cap, you’re going to have to cut services, and no one wants to do that.”