BETHLEHEM The Bethlehem Town Board has set a public hearing on a proposal to abolish the position of highway superintendent.
The change proposed by Town Supervisor John Clarkson would abolish the elected position and place the duties of the office with the commissioner of public works. Clarkson announced the proposal during this year’s State of the Town, shortly after hearing Highway Superintendent Gregg Sagendorph plans on retiring after holding the position for 22 years.
Similar proposals have been made three times in the past, with no changes made. Clarkson said nothing ever came of past efforts because of the respect town officials have for Sagendorph’s work and now, with the longtime official taking his leave, the time may be right.
“It’s hard to talk about changing the status of a position when the incumbent is someone you very much like, respect and want to keep around,” said Clarkson at a Town Board meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 13.
Clarkson said while Sagendorph has always worked well with the board during budget seasons, an elected official does not have to take the recommendations or heed the requests of board members as long as he or she stays within budget. The supervisor said department heads who are appointed or are civil servants ultimately must answer to the board.
If the Town Board adopted the change, the public would still need to approve through a permissive referendum. The town’s Governance Committee found 59 other towns in New York, mostly larger suburbs, no longer elect their highway superintendents.
Savings would likely be realized if a consolidation was approved, but Clarkson said he needs more time to provide an estimate.
“I think no one should support this referendum unless they think it is a good idea in any event,” said Clarkson. “I think the savings should be on top of that.”