As the Brookhaven Highway Superintendent race enters the final stretch, much of the discussion between the two candidates running in the March 5 special election continues to revolve around the town’s poor response to the February blizzard.
On Wednesday, Republican Dan Losquardro and Democrat Kathy Walsh met again to share their thoughts on the future of the Highway Department during a candidates’ forum held at the Medford Fire Department.
With the unplowed streets that stranded many across Brookhaven for days following the Feb. 8 snow storm still fresh in the minds of residents, the candidates reiterated who each felt was at fault for the poor snow removal efforts and what they would do to fix problems within the Highway Department.
Walsh and Losquadro each blamed the absence of an elected Highway Superintendent for the town's breakdown after the blizzard, saying it led to a lack of leadership.
"The blizzard happened during the one eight-week window when we didn't have an elected head of the Highway Department," Losquadro said. "That being said, any business model should be able to operate in the absence of one individual."
Former Highway Superintendent John Rouse resigned in mid-January to run for a county judgeship and appointed Michael Murphy as acting superintendent. Murphy, who did not show for work during the blizzard because of an illness, resigned from the acting superintendent position but remains employed within the Highway Department.
To avoid future struggles in snow removal and possible leadership holes, the candidates agreed that the Highway Department needs to develop a disaster emergency response plan.
Residents at Wednesday meeting also questioned whether town taxes would rise given the recent steps the town council took to improve the Highway Department. Among the changes approved was a rise in hourly rates paid to outside contractors for snow removal.
Losquadro said he could not estimate a budget before an audit, but promised he would fight for any budgetary increase he proposed to be offset by cuts or reductions to other programs.
"I do not feel the town board needs to raise taxes," Losquadro said.
Walsh, a sitting town board member, said she would like to make the same promise but could not given the town's current fiscal challenges.
"If we want to continue the services we have, we need to figure out where to get the money," she said.
Walsh instead suggested promoting the existing adopt-a-highway program and creating an adopt-a-sump program to help cut town costs through public and private partnerships.