By Nick Will, Oneida Dispatch
In recent renegotiations of municipal contracts, Oneida County Board of Legislators approved a plan to exclude the towns of Vernon and Verona from this year’s contracts for ditch maintenance.
Legislators believe this trend will continue with plowing contracts that are also ending this year.
Oneida County Executive Anothony Picente’s assistant James Genovese said it is not uncommon for the county to not offer contacts to certain municipalities or for others to reject contracts. Out of the 26 municipalities in the county, only 16 have new contracts with the county this year for ditch maintenance, which includes mowing and clearing brush on county routes, which the county then pays for.
The contracts are on a two-year renewal and were up this year for ditching, including the plowing contracts. Genovese made it clear the county will not be offering new contracts to Vernon and Verona while litigation against the county is still ongoing.
“In general, you don’t do business with people who are suing you,” Genovese said.
If the decision moves forward, Oneida County would become responsible for county routes in those towns, and snow plows from those municipalities will pick up their plows while on those routes.
Genovese said there are other towns where plowing contracts currently do not exist, including Augusta and Deerfield.
Oneida County Legislator Ken Fort said the municipalities will lose a combined amount of $328,000 that is added annually to their Highway Department budgets to plow county routes if the decision is made. There are 26 miles of Oneida County roads in Vernon and 32 in Verona. Fort said the county is anticipating shelling out $5,800 per mile to other municipalities this year.
Fort challenged the Oneida County government for the decision, saying it’s unfair and a major safety concern.
He said he suspects it’s retribution for the two towns’ refusal to drop their court challenges of the county’s settlement agreement with the Oneida Indian Nation and the state.
He said if the county stood to lose two-thirds of its tax base, it would fight that decision, too. He noted that Vernon and Verona were excluded from the settlement negotiations.
“Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows this is simply retribution,” Fort said in a statement; what it amounts to is the Oneida Indian Nation “directing the way Oneida County government functions.”
“If the people elected to serve at the county and state levels don’t want to do their job by abiding by constitutional requirements and serve the people, it’s pretty clear as to who needs to be replaced,” Fort wrote.
Along with Fort, Legislator Chad Davis said he is concerned about safety on those county routes. He also believes the county’s exclusion of Vernon and Verona is ill-founded, and is being made under misconceptions.
“Verona has been plowing those roads for more than 50 years,” Davis said. “Why would we end that contract now? Highway funds cannot be used to fund other things; there is a misconception that this money is being used in the lawsuits against the county.”
“What happens when we have a snow event on those routes and we can’t have county vehicles out there as much as the towns can?” Davis said in a YouTube video of the Sept. 14 meeting, submitted by user John Doe on Sept. 17.
Votes against the acceptance of the ditch-maintenance agreement were cast by Davis and Fort along with legislators Norman Leach, Michael Clancy, Frank Tallarino, Joseph Furgol and William Hendricks. Fort anticipates the same legislators will voice their concerns against the snow plow funding loss.
Vernon Town Supervisor Myron Thurston and Verona Town Supervisor Owen Waller were unavailable at the time of this report.