East Hampton Town Highway Department Saves By Purchasing Used Military Trucks

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When he was elected East Hampton Town highway superintendent in 2011, Steve Lynch was confronted by an aging fleet of equipment, much of which was ready to break down at any minute. But thanks to a federal program that allows the town to purchase surplus equipment, most of it from the U.S. military, the town has been able to replace a number of vehicles at rock-bottom prices.

Mr. Lynch and the department’s fleet manager, Jack Lester, estimated earlier this month that the equipment—eight dump trucks, a street sweeper, a tow-behind air compressor, an asphalt distribution trailer, and a basin cleaner—would cost close to $2 million if purchased new. The Highway Department paid about $240,000 for the vehicles, including the cost of refurbishing them, according to Mr. Lynch and Mr. Lester.

“These trucks basically saved our tail during the blizzard,” said Mr. Lester, referring to the major winter storm that hit in early February. “They were a godsend.”

The town paid $1,700 apiece for four of the trucks, Mr. Lynch said. They were manufactured in 2010 and would normally be valued at $130,000. All the trucks have fewer than 10,000 miles on them—and some have as few as 200 miles on them. The trucks are used to plow snow, clean up after storms and “for everyday work,” Mr. Lynch said.

The department has a total of 38 trucks, he said.

“When I got here, the fleet was in real bad shape and we didn’t have the money,” the superintendent said. “I had to look to alternatives.”

Two of the military trucks are currently parked in the East Hampton Town Highway Yard, waiting to be made over. Their tires alone are valued at $700 apiece, Mr. Lester said. The trucks will be retrofitted by department mechanics and then sent out to be painted “international school bus yellow,” said Mr. Lynch.

The practice of purchasing used military vehicles isn’t new or unheard of. Mr. Lynch said he had always known about it, and that Mr. Lester had suggested he look into it when he first took office. The department works with the New York State Office of General Services to gain access to the used military equipment sales. Last year, Mr. Lynch visited military bases in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to survey the equipment before purchasing it.

Nine of the trucks and tractors came from the Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, according to Renee Miscione, a public affairs officer with the U.S. General Services Administration. They were transferred to East Hampton Town through the Federal Surplus Property Donation Program, she said in an email.

“Over the years, a wide variety of items, from forklifts, fire engines, watercraft, furniture and much more have been donated to qualifying organizations and communities, maximizing taxpayers’ return on investment for these items by providing for their continued use, as well as providing savings to local taxpayers in cost avoidance from purchasing new items to meet their needs,” Ms. Miscione said.

Buying used vehicles and refurbishing them is one of the cost-cutting measures the Highway Department, and town government in general, has had to implement in recent years. About six years ago, Mr. Lynch said the department had about 42 employees—a number that has since been whittled down to 27, as positions of those who retired went unfilled over the years. This year’s Highway Department budget is about $5.8 million, he said.

“I’m trying to get the equipment to be more productive with a smaller amount of people,” Mr. Lynch said.

Annual maintenance, or the lack thereof, has been an issue in the Highway Department. Mr. Lynch and Mr. Lester said the department should be paving 15 miles of road per year, but employees haven’t been able to keep pace in recent years. Last year, the department paved about 8 miles of road, Mr. Lynch said.

Mr. Lynch’s own office is an example of infrastructure that hasn’t been maintained. Recently, his ceiling began leaking, and as of early March, there was a bucket planted in the middle of the room to catch the water. He has since moved his office out into the hallway until the leak can be fixed.

“This is what I call open government,” Mr. Lynch joked. “You have to come by me to get to our receptionist.”

Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, the Town Board’s liaison to the Highway Department, commended Mr. Lynch in interviews this month for saving the town money.

“It was a really great way to replace our aging fleet, or a portion of it, in a way that was of very little cost to the taxpayers, didn’t increase our long-term debt, and we were able to, with the talented people we have, convert them into trucks that will serve us well,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said.

Mr. Wilkinson said he encourages the kind of initiative Mr. Lynch took.

“The fact that he can get such an asset for such a deep discount saves the town taxpayers a ton of money—I totally support it,” Mr. Wilkinson said.

Mr. Lester said he’d be willing to buy more highly discounted trucks in the future.

“Anytime someone wants to sell me a $110,000 truck for $3,000, I’m buying it,” Mr. Lester said. “It’s like free, basically.”

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