The Putnam Examiner

Putnam Leg. Splits Vote on Borrowing $1.3 million for Snow Removal Trucks

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To borrow or not to borrow?

That is the question county government and local municipalities are asking as of late, with revenues down and interest rates on borrowing that have headed in the same direction.

After a discussion on the committee level as whether or not to borrow $1.3 million to replace five snow plow dump trucks and two loaders, it came down to one vote at the Putnam County Legislature’s full meeting on July 3 to approve what was described as a “compromise” to borrow $880,000 and allow Putnam County Highway Commissioner Fred Pena to use his discretion to make decisions on what vehicles and equipment needed to be replaced at the department.

County legislators Carl Albano, Anthony DiCarlo, Richard Othmer and Vincent Tamagna were in favor of a proposal presented by Pena at the June physical services committee meeting to borrow an estimated total of $1.3 million to meet the full equipment replacement request from Pena.

Another unanimous vote by the legislators followed to approve the borrowing of $880,000, or an estimated $300,000 less than originally was requested.

As was mentioned several times by the legislators during their comments at the full meeting on July 3, Pena told the physical services committee in June that, in recent years, the county had failed to implement a vehicle replacement program and that the existing mechanic staff in the department was overwhelmed by the number of vehicles they had to maintain and service.

“Both have been ignored,” Pena said of the status of highway equipment and personnel. “At some point, we have to start replenishing our fleet.”

Pena said that the life span of a snow truck is approximately 15 years and that some trucks in the Putnam County fleet were as old as 30 years.

Deputy Highway Commissioner John Tully said, that after a recent inventory, if every vehicle and piece of equipment at the highway department that was 20 years or older was replaced,  it would cost an estimated $3.7 million to entirely replace.

“What we are asking for…is for what we feel is most critical…which is for the snow removal operation,” Tully said of the five trucks and two loaders that were requested.

Pena said that if the status of the fleet was as-is during the winter months that snow removal operations would have been negatively impacted.

The four legislators who were in favor of borrowing the full amount of $1.3 million to fulfill the original request cited the current low cost of borrowing, the bargaining power of purchasing a greater number of trucks at one time and public safety.

“When we look at what we provide, this is one of the things people expect of us,” Tamagna said, regarding the county having the ability to keep the roads open and safe, during and after a snowstorm.

The legislators who voted down borrowing the full amount, Dan Birmingham, Roger Gross, Dini LoBue, Sam Oliverio and Mary Conklin, cited concerns about taking on too much debt and expressed a hope that a vehicle replacement schedule be built into the county’s annual budget.

Roger Gross, who formerly sat on the Southeast Town Board, said that a town employee had saved Southeast hundreds of thousands of dollars by finding government surplus equipment at auction and he wanted to work with Pena to establish the same kind of efforts on the county level.

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