by Doug Janese
Incumbent Highway Superintendent, Town of Lewiston
Today, I am formally announcing my intention to run for another term as the Town of Lewiston highway superintendent.
Although I had no political or other ties to any of the elected officials who recommended my appointment, I was chosen from a field of 31 candidates who had applied to fill the office that was vacated when Steve Reiter became our town supervisor. At the time of my appointment, I was the senior project manager for a commercial construction company headquartered here in Western New York. I then successfully ran for office in last November's elections.
I honestly believe I am the most qualified candidate to continue guiding our highway department for several reasons.
While our highway department is a municipal agency, it is also a $2.5-million-a-year business. Our only customer is the Town of Lewiston resident. While public safety and customer service must and will always come first, especially in today's economy, it still needs to be run like a business. It needs to be run in the most cost-effective manner possible while meeting the residents' needs and expectations.
I already have a proven record of holding down costs and delivering excellent services as your highway superintendent.
I actually have almost 20 years of management experience directing commercial construction projects, assisting in the estimation of their costs, providing direct supervision to the workforce, and overseeing their budgets. The knowledge I gained in the private world of business has easily transferred to the public sector.
I feel that our productivity is at a high level, and our costs have been controlled. At the end of my first year in office, I am proud to say that the highway department finished the 2010 budget with a surplus of $91,859. But with our costs rising and our town revenues declining, the 2011 budget process was challenging. The initial budget proposal called for two new taxes. If left in place, two new taxes, one for highway and the other for drainage, would have appeared on our property tax bills.
I said "no" to both of these taxes and decided that the highway department would do what the average Lewiston resident had to do. We would have to live within our means. I felt that cutting any of the services to our residents was out of the question, so I began to look for other options.
On my recommendation, the highway and drainage departments were merged into one to save on personnel, material purchases, and equipment costs. Another $200,000 in non-essential spending was cut from the budget as well. The result was that, without my having to cut a single service we provide, the need for any new taxes was eliminated.
Despite those cuts, the highway department is still on excellent financial footing. Our most current budget reports show that we are on target to finish 2011 with another budget surplus.
A number of factors have helped us keep our budget numbers in line. Plow routes and salting techniques were adjusted. More efficient ways of picking up brush are being utilized to save on fuel and labor costs. New vendors were solicited to increase the competition for our business to maximize savings. We subcontracted far less, and explored every possible avenue of savings.
One small example is in the cost of recycling of the brush we pick up almost every day. Last year, we spent almost $14,000 to have a contractor come on site to grind the brush we had accumulated. After late April's powerful windstorm, our storage area rapidly filled beyond its capacity. Based on last year's pricing, it would have cost more than $20,000 to process that much material. Instead of spending that money, I found a company that had a need for ground wood products and was willing to shred and remove all of the debris for free. After a bit of friendly arm-twisting, they even agreed to leave us a substantial amount of that material for future use by our residents as garden mulch.
I have made highway safety my top priority. During one of the longest and snowiest winters in more than 30 years, our plows and salters kept our roads clean and safe every single day. During the rainiest spring ever recorded, our roadside drainage system worked so well that we didn't have to close a single road due to flooding. During the windstorm in April, dozens of fallen trees and broken branches were quickly removed from our roads and, afterward, a huge clean-up task was finished without a hitch.
Any Lewiston resident can tell you that, no matter what the time of year, our roads are always in excellent condition. Before the season ends, we will have repaved several miles of town roads this year to make sure they stay that way. Our effective road design, proper signage and constant maintenance have made our roads among the safest in New York state. In fact, during my terms as your highway superintendent, there has not been a single injury accident that was attributed to road conditions.
The highway department has a long and proud history of providing superb customer service to the residents. We have continued to provide that same level of service. Year-round, brush disappeared almost as quickly as it was set out to the roadside, and our leaves were picked up daily during the autumn. Much of the credit goes to the highway department staff. They are a group of highly efficient and dedicated workers. No matter what the task or the weather, they do an absolutely superb job for our community every single day.
Largely because of the efforts of the superintendents who came before me, we do not have any of the infrastructure problems that many other municipalities have. We already have the necessary equipment and a talented and dedicated staff of capable and experienced drivers and equipment operators in place.
What the highway department does need to succeed is truly capable and effective management. With the rising prices of fuel, materials and labor, one of the largest challenges the department will face is how to maintain our full range of customer services while keeping our costs in check. Dealing with that issue alone will require the leadership of someone with proven management skills and extensive experience with budgetary matters. I have proven that I have those skills and experience.
We absolutely have to be cost effective in every possible way. Like many municipalities, we do have an aging equipment fleet. But instead of buying new vehicles and equipment, I felt that, with the talented group of guys we have, we could spend the slow time between snowplow runs this winter refurbishing equipment.
Two of our large tandem trucks had been scheduled to be sold at auction as surplus. To purchase a pair of these trucks would have cost the taxpayers well over $300,000. Instead, both of these vehicles were totally rebuilt, overhauled and returned to service at a cost of less than $8,000. Two other large single axle dump trucks were also similarly refurbished, along with several pieces of heavy equipment. All of the mechanical repairs, bodywork, metal fabrication and even the painting were done in-house by our own employees. Therefore, by paying for parts and materials only, we spent less than $20,000 to repair and refurbish more than $750,000 worth of equipment.
The easy thing to do in times of rising costs and decreasing revenues is to add a new tax or enact some user fees. But I know that there is always another way to get the job done without adding any further burden to our taxpayers. We proved that this year.
While the 2012 budget year will no doubt pose a new set of challenges, if you choose me to serve another term as your highway superintendent, you have my word that I will not ask for any new taxes for the highway department. Instead, we will do the very same thing that we have done this year: We will search for more effective ways to continue to meet our residents' needs using only the revenue we have.
My wife, Susan, and I have chosen to live here in Lewiston for a single reason: We both think it is the finest community in all of Western New York. I am very proud of any small role I might play in keeping Lewiston just that. I have been endorsed by the Republican, Conservative and Independence parties, and I respectfully ask for your support to continue as your highway superintendent.