The new chairman of the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors expects flood recovery will command most of the county government’s attention this year.
Supervisor Philip Skowfoe Jr., D-Fulton, was chosen for the county’s top post earlier this week in a divided vote that may signal more unrest following a tumultuous year.
But Skowfoe, despite leading other supervisors in a lawsuit in 2012 against the board’s former chairman, Harold Vroman, said he’s hopeful he’ll get the county board to work as a unified team.
Skowfoe, 65, a retired boilermaker who owns Phil Skowfoe Drilling, a water well installation service, began his 16th year as supervisor in the town of Fulton this year.
He said top priorities for 2013 include the ongoing post-flood rebuilding project at the county office complex in Schoharie and deciding what to do with the damaged county jail.
A $9.1 million reconstruction project is under way at the county office complex on Main Street, but recent developments put in question the future of the jail on Depot Lane. Supervisors last month learned final estimates put the cost of repairing the public safety facility well above its value.
That puts federal disaster relief officials in the position to decide whether to pay for rebuilding in the flood zone, at a cost of as much as $20 million, or spending roughly $30 million to build a new jail out of the path of future floods.
Skowfoe takes the reins of the county following a 2012 wrought with disagreements that led to the lawsuit against Vroman, R-Summit, who finished up two years as chairman at the end of 2012. The lawsuit followed Vroman’s mid-year change in committee assignments; Skowfoe and other supervisors were unhappy with them and sought a reversal. Vroman relented, and supervisors got to hold their initial committee assignments for about two months.
This time, Skowfoe said he doesn’t expect any commotion over his committee assignments, but if there is, he said, board members unhappy with their committee post can simply step down.
He said he wants Schoharie County’s board to work as a team this year. “I would like to see it work as a unit,” he said.
Skowfoe serves on the board of the Montgomery-Otsego-Schoharie Solid Waste Management Authority, currently as its vice chairman. MOSA’s service agreement is set to expire in 2014, but Skowfoe said he’s not convinced the three-county system will break up.
If it does, Schoharie County will need to come up with another garbage disposal service and waste management plan, but Skowfoe said he’s not expecting that will be necessary.
“I think MOSA works well for us,” he said.
As he steps into the chairmanship, Skowfoe also inherits an ongoing investigation launched after county employees complained in 2011 about mistreatment. He said he’s optimistic issues involving employees, department heads and supervisors can be resolved.
A report from a downstate law firm that has interviewed more than 400 employees and officials is expected to be completed early this year. Once that report is reviewed, he said he expects the county board will make appropriate changes.
“I think it should be able to change our policies and procedures so something like that is never needed again,” Skowfoe said.
The board chairman position pays an annual salary of $21,000.