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Full-time town engineer post is suggested

Shelter Island officials should seriously consider hiring a full-time engineer to meet the town’s needs, Town Engineer John Cronin told the Capital Projects/Grants Committee last week.

He’s retiring and will gradually be turning the position over to a successor.

The need for the town, Mr. Cronin added, to upgrade and maintain its assets, is such that the work can’t be successfully done by a part-timer.

With the retirement of Jay Card Jr. as highway superintendent and public works commissioner slated for April 1, Mr. Card’s replacement and a new town engineer will have to work closely together.

The two men have worked in tandem on many projects and have been the driving force behind establishing a capital spending budget. Mr. Card told the committee that work must start this summer to allocate money to a capital budget that would be officially established in September, prior to working on the rest of the 2020 town budget.

Failure to take that step will result in another year in which there’s talk about taking care of town assets, but a failure to provide money to do so.

During the 10 years of Jim Dougherty’s administration at Town Hall, the former supervisor argued that there has always been money to respond to capital needs without creating such a fund. Others maintained that strategy resulted in delays in meeting needs, which became more expensive when they finally had to be addressed.

Since Supervisor Gary Gerth took office a year ago, he has supported the establishment of a capital spending plan backed by an annual contribution for a fund to upgrade and maintain the town’s infrastructure.

Councilman Jim Colligan, who chairs the Capital Projects/Grants Committee, has suggested putting aside what would amount to 1-percent of the budget each year for a fund of about $500,000 for asset improvements and maintenance.

Had that been done in 2018 for this year’s budget, it would have amounted to $88,000.

Mr. Colligan said in creating the capital spending budget, department chiefs must prioritize their requests over a three- to five-year period, recognizing that everything can’t be done in a single year.