Who is using town property for private storage – storing boats, cars and jet skis behind the town highway garage on Whitehaven Road?
Dan Drexilius asked the Town board Monday night to investigate and said it "needs to be stopped."
Drexilius, a Conservative-endorsed candidate for Grand Island highway superintendent, further charged that the Highway Department created a parking lot for storage and bought a "shrink wrap machine."
"They've used town employees, town equipment and town taxpayer money to do this,"Drexilius said.
Deputy Highway Superintendent Dick Crawford, who was in charge while Highway Superintendent JT Tomkins was on a scheduled vacation this week, denied that employees were using any town equipment.
Crawford said the town does not have a machine or specialty equipment for shrink wrapping, but does use shrink wrap and a blow torch to wrap equipment stored outside for the winter. He said this is done to make more space inside for plow trucks.
"If an individual is wrapping their boat they are doing it with their own equipment and own materials. They are not utilizing any highway department equipment or product," said Crawford.
He confirmed that employees had been given permission to park in a rear lot at the highway garage.
"I guess there is no real policy. The highway superintendent was approached by the employees and they asked and were given permission" to park there, Crawford said. "It's not done every year. It happened this year."
Crawford said he understands the concerns and there will be a policy "this day forward" to stop it.
"It will not happen again," said Crawford, who said he was in contact with Tomkins by phone.
Town Supervisor Nathan D. McMurray said he went to investigate earlier on Monday when a formal complaint was filed. He said he also contacted state police to determine what the legal implications are and was informed that an investigation should begin.
"Those things are way back there, behind the salt shed," McMurray said after the Town Board meeting. "As soon as I learned about it, I immediately went back there and I spoke to Acting Highway Superintendent Crawford."
McMurray said there is a different scale between "letting your buddy park your boat in the way back" and the alleged misappropriation of town funds and personnel to buy a shrink wrap machine or create a parking lot.
"Am I concerned about the abuse of resources? Absolutely. Will I use all my power to look into it? Absolutely," McMurray said. "The first time anybody has heard about this is today."
He said the Highway Department did put in a parking lot "the size of two football fields" last year, which is used as a staging area for road, sewer and water line projects. He noted that the town was able to repurpose stone leftover from road milling projects and donated stone that had served as a temporary access road under the Grand Island bridge during repairs two years ago.
"We hired Drexilius to grade it for us," Crawford said.
James Maloney shared photographs with The Buffalo News of what he said were five boats and two jet skis shrink-wrapped in bright blue for winter storage. He said there was also a car on a towing dolly and a pickup truck cap. Maloney, the owner of River Oaks Marina, said his business has faced fines and violations for improper boat storage over the past 15 years.
Drexilius told the Town Board that the highway grounds were used for private storage under a previous administration, which then put a stop to it.
"Now it's being done again. Why?" Drexilius asked. "You need to find out whose boats these are and call the state police and attorney general. This is criminal. This is really bad."