Riverhead's municipal garage. File photo: Peter Blasl

Oversight of Riverhead’s municipal garage, which had been operating under the supervision of former chief of staff Larry Levy since 2016, would be shifted to the highway superintendent under a plan being considered by the town board.

The board is proposing to increase the highway superintendent’s annual salary by $20,000 to compensate him for the extra duties and responsibility. The highway superintendent salary is currently $ 94,803 per year. Because the salary of the highway superintendent, as an elected official, is set by local law, the town board will hold a public hearing on March 6 at 2:15 p.m. on a proposed local law to increase his salary for 2018 by $20,000, to be prorated from the date of enactment.

The town garage lost its department head with the retirement of John Reeve in December 2014. Reeve, who also ran the town’s sanitation department, earned more than $97,000 per year at the time of his retirement. As a cost-saving measure, the town board decided against replacing Reeve and instead parceled out his duties to the engineering and buildings and grounds departments. Some employees were promoted and others were given raises or stipends for taking on the extra duties.

After an internal audit committee report in early 2016 detailed multiple managerial control and oversight problems over the course of an audit done in the prior year, the town board promoted one of the four mechanics at the garage to a supervisory position and Levy was put in charge of department oversight. Levy’s employment was terminated in December at the end of former supervisor Sean Walter’s administration, leaving the municipal garage once again without an administrator. It has since been back under the supervision of the engineering department. 

The municipal garage is responsible for the repair and maintenance of the town’s fleet of vehicles, including police vehicles. The facility is located on a site adjacent to the highway department, which has its own garage and staff of mechanics who maintain and repair highway department vehicles.

Since Reeve’s retirement, Woodson has said he could absorb the duties of running the town garage, but the board chose another course. Woodson says he is able to provide the kind of hands-on oversight the facility requires, something that neither Levy nor the town engineer were able to do.

“I’m right here,” he said in an interview. “I’m mechanically inclined and I already oversee a staff of mechanics. It makes sense.” Woodson said.

“I have ideas for upgrading the department and actually making some money for the town,” he said, citing the opportunity to perform contract work for the county as one idea.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio voted no on the resolution scheduling a hearing on the proposed pay increase for the highway superintendent. She said she is not opposed to paying the highway superintendent the extra money for the additional work, but argued that it should be paid as a stipend, not as a salary increase, so that it wouldn’t be a permanent hike. The resolution setting the March 6 hearing passed 4-1.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith advocated for shifting responsibility for the town garage to the highway superintendent in her 2015 and 2017 campaigns.

If adopted, the local law authorizing the highway superintendent’s salary increase would be subject to a permissive referendum, meaning taxpayers could, by petition, force a public vote on the proposal.  

Editor’s note: This article originally omitted the fact that the garage has been under the supervision of the town engineer since January.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.