Riverhead, NY town council, highway Superintendent debate whether public funds should be used to maintain private roads for Oak Hills Association (HOA)
By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Road maintenance has become a controversial issue in states across the U.S. It is no secret that decades-old roads and highways are in desperate need of repair and repaving. Municipal budgets are stretched to the limit just trying to keep up with snow plowing, leaf pickup, storm drain cleaning, pothole repair, crack sealing, and repaving of public roads.
But homeowners and residents in communities with private roads are expected to fund and take care of road maintenance without any assistance from municipal and county governments. In most cases, some sort of homeowners’ association has been established to collect assessments or fees that are intended to fund ongoing maintenance.
In New York, the town council of Riverhead, located on Long Island, is debating if and when the town’s highway department should maintain roads in dozens of Civic Associations. Among those HOAs is Oak Hills Association, and 85-home neighborhood located Baiting Hollow.
Although Oak Hills Association has no website, the Association does have a Facebook Page. The Civic Association was established in 1964. At that time, an Indenture was added, applicable to each lot, that required a $25 annual assessment for maintenance. Lot buyers could voluntarily elect to pay “initiation” and “membership” fees, OR pay $25 per year.
Quite obviously, $25 per year per 85 homeowners, even over 50 years, does not add up to a sufficient fund for maintenance and eventual repaving of 11 roads. (That’s a little more than $100,000.)
It stands to reason that all 20 of Riverhead’s Civic Associations face similar circumstances.
In the meantime, the owners of homes in these older neighborhoods have paid considerably high property, sales, and gas taxes over the decades. They wonder why their tax dollars cannot be spent in their own communities.
And, as noted in the reference links below, Oak Hills HOA members argue that their roads can hardly be considered private any more, now that Long Island is more densely populated and urbanized than it was in the 1960s. Oak Hills Association is serious about its stance. The Association filed a lawsuit last year against Riverhead Town Board and Highway Superintendent George Woodson, to compel public maintenance of Oak Hills Association’s roads.
The issue of road maintenance goes back to 2014, when scores of residents from neighborhood Civic Associations began to protest the Highway Supervisor’s refusal to provide road maintenance of what he claims to be private roads.
Town Supervisor Sean Walter has advocated for providing public road maintenance of private roads. The Town Council recently voted 3-2 in favor of a resolution to do just that. But Highway Superintendent Woodson remains adamantly opposed. He and the two dissenting town board members argue it is unconstitutional to use public funds to maintain private roads.
However, since Riverhead has traditionally provided public maintenance in the past, legal counsel for Oak Hills Association argues that state law now deems once private roads as “highway by use.”
The details are covered in the news links below.
Regardless of the type of HOA – mandatory or voluntary or civic, very few association-governed communities will have the financial resources to maintain, repair, and rebuild their roads without intervention and use of public funding. These reports are just the beginning of what will become an epidemic of HOAs approaching their municipal and county elected officials to serve the public interest by restoring their neighborhood streets and roads to good condition.
And, like it or not, city and county officials will have to face up to the fact that they can no longer abdicate public services to small groups of private homeowners. Although homeowners will likely end up paying for these services with higher taxes, chances are, economies of scale will reduce the cost burden by sharing road and highway maintenance expenses among a larger population. It is no longer efficient – and probably never was – to saddle each separate neighborhood or community with its own road work.
Plowing private roads: constituent service or unconstitutional expenditure?
By Denise Civiletti – Oct 3, 2014, 5:44 pm
Riverhead Highway Superintendent George Woodson has come under fire by Town Supervisor Sean Walter for informing residents who live on private roads that the town will no longer plow them.
Walter says residents should “protest the highway department” for Woodson’s decision, which the supervisor says is a reversal of town policy and may even be contrary to state law.
But Woodson says the practice of plowing private roads began under his predecessor in office, Mark Kwasna and itself violates the state constitution, which prohibits the expenditure of town highway funds on non-town roads.
Woodson has begun advising residents that his crews will no longer plow the town’s private roads except in emergencies — and residents have begun complaining to the supervisor’s office, according to Walter.
“It’s basic constituent service,” Walter said. “He may be highway superintendent but when all hell breaks loose, they come to the supervisor’s office. And they should. The buck stops here.”
Private Oak Hills community sues town to provide additional services
by Tim Gannon | 10/10/2016 6:00 AM
Residents of a private community in Baiting Hollow are suing Riverhead Town to expand services on its roads, alleging the town is in violation of state law by providing only snow removal services.
The Oak Hills Civic Association, which comprises 85 homes on 11 private roads north of Sound Avenue, claims that when the town agreed last year to provide snow removal services it also should have agreed to provide leaf pickup, drainage cleaning and road paving to the community.
“The defendants [the town] have erroneously interpreted and misapplied [state law] to mean that they are only required to provide snow removal and no other roadway maintenance and services, such as drain vacuuming, maintaining lighting and water lines, cleaning of tree, leaf, ranch and storm debris, roadway patching, etc.,” the lawsuit states.
Oak Hills was one of several private communities that stormed Town Hall in 2014 after residents received a letter from Highway Superintendent George Woodson stating the highway department could no longer legally provide snow plowing services to private roads, as it had done in the past.
The town reversed that policy last year, agreeing to provide services to several communities that had been receiving such services for at least 10 years. The town based its decision on a section of state highway law that says “all lands which shall have been used by the public as a highway for the period of 10 years or more, shall be a highway, with the same force and effect as if it had been duly laid out and recorded as a highway.”
Woodson: ‘I’m not spending taxpayer money on private roads’
by Tim Gannon | 09/13/2017 5:55 AM
Riverhead Highway Superintendent George “Gio” Woodson says he will not provide paving and highway services — other than snow plowing — to roads in the Oak Hills section of Baiting Hollow, despite a Town Board resolution passed last Wednesday to incorporate 11 streets into the town road system.
“I’m not spending taxpayer money on private roads,” he told the Town Board last Wednesday in response to the resolution.
Mr. Woodson said afterward that, if necessary, he may even go to court to overturn that resolution.
He said he will continue to provide snow plowing in Oak Hills, but not other highway services involving paving or drainage.
The Town Board passed the resolution by a vote of 3-2, with members Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy opposed.
The board agreed in 2015 to plow snow and cold patch potholes on more than 50 private roads townwide, including those in Oak Hills, using a modified version of state’s “highway by use” law, under Section 189 of the state highway law.
That law says that any road that has received government services such as plowing for at least 10 years continuously can be deemed a “highway by use,” a designation that allows the town to continue providing the services, but which opens the road to the public as well.