ENFIELD, N.Y. — The Enfield Town Board held its monthly meeting Wednesday, May 13 where the board voted to create a new committee dedicated to examining water issues and creating a water protection plan following a nearly two-hour presentation from the United State Geological Survey.
The Board did not take up resolutions regarding extending the town supervisor’s term by two years and turning the elected positions of highway department superintendent and town clerk into appointed positions due to the meeting running nearly four hours. Town Supervisor Beth McGee said the resolutions would instead be taken up in June.
A copy of the meeting agenda can be found here.
United States Geological Survey
Representatives from the USGS gave a highly technical presentation to the Board on the results of a water study initiated years ago as a response to the possibility of fracking operations coming to the area.
“One of the conditions of the moratorium (against fracking)… was an aquifer study with the USGS. This was eight years ago, and it cost a lot of money, about $90,000 from the town alone,” Town Supervisor Beth McGee said.
McGee said the study, which showed that certain areas of water under Enfield consist of salty water with occasional methane present, inherently took a long time due to the number of wells that needed to be drilled.
“I believe they drilled eight wells, and they measured the flow of the water and the makeup of the ground itself. We desired this so we could understand how water moved around Enfield,” McGee said.
McGee said the study was important because it helps with designing mitigation plans for potential spills or frack pond overflow should those or other industries ever come to the area. New York State codified a ban on hydraulic fracturing in this year’s state budget.
“We also wanted to protect Enfield water from fracking draws, we didn’t want our water drawn out for frack fluid. So this study gives us a better understanding of where the water is and how to protect it,” McGee said.
McGee added that the study does not indicate the amount of water underneath Enfield or the exact nature of the water quality.
“Further testing would need to be done,” McGee said.
As a result of the study, the board voted to create a new committee whose sole purpose would be to examine water issues and draft a water protection plan for the town.
“Water is the new oil,” said councilperson Mimi Mehaffey during the meeting.
After the meeting, McGee said that citizen advisory committees have been very helpful in the past to Enfield.
“It allows residents to put their energy into (issues they care about) and allows the board to review it. We have put together some guidelines on how the makeup of the committee will be and I think people will express interest. Everything has to be public, so anyone who wants to go and participate and engage is welcome to. You don’t have to be a member of the committee to participate in the process,” said McGee.
There is no timeline as to when the committee will be formed.
Highway superintendent Buddy Rollins again accused the board of furloughing his employees despite the fact that the board does not have the authority to do so.
“I am waiting on the board to bring them back, the board laid them off,” Rollins said during the meeting.
Board members disagreed.
“I think we have been clear when there is no work done there is no pay for that,” said McGee. “If there is work to schedule then schedule it.”
Boardmember Robert Lynch added that if there was work to do, that Rollins should bring back his employees immediately. Rollins reiterated that he believes the board layed off his employees and that it is at their discretion to bring them back. Rollins then accused the board of spending money like “drunken sailors” and argued that the COVID pandemic should have very little impact on his overall budget.
“(Rollins) was turning in time cards for guys that just had COVID written on them, with no actual hours worked,” said Supervisor McGee. “We as a town can not pay for hours that are not worked for workers who are paid on an hourly basis, which highway employees are. If Buddy scheduled them for work, we would pay them for work. That is solely at his discretion.”
McGee added that she does not understand why Rollins is fighting to keep his staff fully paid by the town while not working when they have access to more money through special COVID-19 unemployment benefits scheduled to end July.
Town Justice Betty Poole spoke to the board regarding health benefits for retired town employees, asking that they all be reimbursed retroactively for Medicare Part B payments.
Poole argued that it was town policy included in the policy manual for the town to reimburse retirees for those Part B costs while McGee and other board members, with the exception of Lynch, argued that was never the intent of the policy.
“I spent a good five months my first year resolving those problems and this was one of them,” said McGee. “There was a lot of confusion about why we had retirees on a very expensive plan when a few years prior they were supposed to be shifted to taxpayer-subsidized cheaper programs. That was the intent of the policy so we decided to follow it to correct the problem. Our attorney reviewed it and helped develop the language to communicate this to retirees, which consisted of a better plan than the previous plan while also being much less expensive.,”
Poole argued that McGee and the rest of the board were not doing right by town employees as a result.
“Medicare Part B is not a separate premium. It is a (charge) that is part of your larger Medicare bill. After about $144 is taken out for Part B then the town pays 100 percent of supplemental premiums including vision, hearing aids and dental. So it’s a pretty comprehensive plan,” McGee said, adding that she was also informed that if the town reimbursed retirees for Part B costs it would constitute taxable income.
“It’s just better this way for everyone, and I thought everyone was on board with this when we communicated it to retirees prior,” McGee said.
After the discussion during the meeting between Poole and the board, Lynch proposed a resolution to reimburse retirees for Part B costs. It did not receive a second to be considered.