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Lewis County Highway Department charges for in-kind services

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LOWVILLE — The Lewis County Highway Department is charging other departments for more in-kind services to help meet budget constraints.

“We’re not against in-kind services, but it puts a hurt on our budget,” county Highway Superintendent Joseph C. “Chuck” Langs said.

With the consent of the legislative Transportation and Solid Waste Committee, Mr. Langs said, his department billed the Recreational Trails Department for hauling stone last summer for development of all-terrain vehicle trail heads.

The department this year may also charge for mechanic work done on vehicles from other departments, such as Public Health, he said.

“They’re trying to cover their costs,” said Legislator Patrick F. Wallace, R-Lowville, the Legislature’s Transportation Committee chairman, noting that charging back for fuel and other shared services has been going on for a long time.

Over the past few years, county lawmakers have asked department heads to submit budgets with double-digit percentage decreases in spending to help offset increases in costs for pension, Medicaid and other state-mandated programs.

“We had to cut our fuel budget to get to where the legislators wanted,” Mr. Langs said.

County Trail Coordinator Robert C. Diehl last year purchased stone using grant funding but asked highway officials to truck it to the areas where it was needed.

Workers made those deliveries on days when they were not busy with other duties, Mr. Langs said.

However, those runs cost roughly $26,000 in manpower and fuel, making it more difficult to stay within budget, he said.

The county’s dump trucks “are not made for fuel mileage,” Mr. Langs said. “They’re made to haul the stone.”

The highway superintendent said he initially billed for the entire $26,000. However, Mr. Diehl, who had not expected a hauling charge, was able to pull only $10,000 from the county’s permit-funded ATV trail account, so a new voucher was submitted for the latter amount, he said.

Mr. Langs said he was happy with any assistance from the trail department, given the funding request’s lateness. Mr. Diehl could have paid the transportation costs out of the grant funding had he been given advance notice.

With chargeback policies in place, county departments have the option of either using highway workers or contracting with private companies for needed services.

Even with the changes, Mr. Langs said, his department continues to work with other county agencies and municipalities to share equipment and services whenever possible.

And that works both ways, he said, noting highway workers have used an excavator from the trails department for some small jobs.

“However you look at it, it’s all county,” Mr. Langs said.

Committee members continue to look for ways to recover Highway Department costs, particularly for departments that may be eligible for state or federal reimbursement for services, Mr. Wallace said.

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