Erie County upped its offer for towns plowing county roads, but the towns say that it still is not enough.
“It’s not going over well with the highway superintendents or the supervisors,” Concord Supervisor Gary A. Eppolito said.
The county is now offering to pay municipalities 1 percent more than the current contract to keep county roads clear of ice and snow. That contract is up at the end of the month.
Erie County Deputy Budget Director Timothy C. Callan said the Aug. 22 letter by Public Works Commissioner John C. Loffredo that was sent to town boards was not intended to be an end run around the county’s stalled negotiations with the Town Highway Superintendents Association.
“It’s never been done this way,” Eppolito said, adding that he helped negotiate the last two contracts. “We don’t work this way. We negotiate together.”
The goal, Callan said, was to ensure that the towns have something to work with as they begin preparing their 2014 budgets. The problem, he said, is the association’s refusal to return to the bargaining table, which is delaying that effort. But the towns are waiting for the county to make a better offer.
Meanwhile, Callan said, the county is seeking to act in the best interests and safety of the residents who rely on those county roads that won’t otherwise get plowed without some type of agreement in place.
“It’s in everyone’s interest to have some kind of certainty on this,” Callan said. “We want to have fair and open negotiations, but they’re not being responsive.”
For years, a committee of highway superintendents and supervisors has negotiated with the county over the rate the county pays municipalities to plow county roads, Eppolito said. The towns are looking for a three-year contract, with an increase of 5 percent each year. The two sides stopped negotiating when the county offered an increase of 0.75 percent, and the towns came down to 4 percent.
Last week, the county sent letters and contracts to the 24 towns that plow county roads. It said that given county fiscal constraints and an inflation rate of below 5 percent, a 5 percent increase each year is unsustainable.
Eppolito said Concord has lost money in four of the last five years plowing county roads.
Callan said plowing reimbursement rates that the county has paid to the towns have increased by 78 percent over the last 12 years, which he said is well above the rate of inflation.
Meanwhile, he said, the county’s maintenance and operations budget for the Highway Division has risen by only 18 percent in that time. He insisted that this was a reasonable comparison, even though the county’s maintenance and operation budget includes costs for patching and trenching county roads, which are services that are not included in the county’s snowplowing contract with the towns.
Loffredo said in the letter that if towns sign the contract for a 1 percent increase in each of the next three years, and a higher rate is negotiated, the higher rate will be “reflected in any final contract.”
But local officials believe that once they sign a contract, the rate will not change.
“We weren’t born yesterday,” said Orchard Park Highway Superintendent Frederick J. Piasecki Jr., who is head of the highway superintendents group.
“It’s the county’s roads; they need to come to an agreement with the towns,” Eppolito said. “Honestly, what the next step is, I don’t know.”