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Steuben County towns reject highway superintendent referendums

(AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan, File)
(AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan, File)

Voters in the towns of Addison and Wheeler in Steuben County rejected similar ballot measures during this year’s general election. The measures would have eliminated elected highway superintendent positions and replace them with appointed ones.

The town supervisors for Addison and Wheeler both said the referendums were created to give the town boards more oversight and accountability of the position.

The highway superintendent for towns is responsible for the maintenance and repair of its highways and bridges including snow, brush and loose stone removal. The position is required to attend public meetings called by the state Department of Transportation, provide annual written inventory reports to the town board and enter into a written agreement with the town for financial requests for maintaining the local highways.

Addison Town Supervisor Jack Thompson said the referendum was a way to ensure those in the position would have to answer for what they agreed to do.

“It would allow [sic] if they don’t show up for work, there’s going to be a reason why,” said Thompson. “They don’t do what they signed up for with our highway superintendent road-use agreement, we want to know why. Right now, there’s just no alternative. I mean, if they don’t come to work, you still have to pay him. They don’t abide by the agreement, you still have to pay him.”

Wheeler Town Supervisor Jeanette Underhill said she did not have those same concerns. But she said appointing the highway superintendent position, rather than having it an elected position, would give them the opportunity to look for more applicants outside the town and county to have a broader applicant pool. The referendum would have allowed the town of Wheeler to hire anyone from within Steuben County or an adjoining county.

While these referendums were voted down, both officials said they could possibly come up again as future ballot measures.

On Nov. 7, Chris Chapman was elected to the highway superintendent position in Wheeler. He was appointed after the previous highway superintendent, Randy Comstock, retired last year in the middle of his term.

The town board has the right to appoint someone to a vacant position until there is time for a special election or the term ends.

Kenneth Peoples Jr. was elected in Addison. He will replace Jeffery BeGell on Jan. 1, 2024.

Most of the towns in Steuben County elect their highway superintendents rather than appoint them. Currently, only the towns of Avoca, Bath, Erwin and Howard appoint their highway superintendents.