Highway Dept. Lays Out Capital Improvement Plans

Highway Superintendent Mike Simone discusses the Highway Department's capital improvement projects with the Town Board. Credits: Bob Dumas

MAHOPAC, N.Y. - With spring here, the Carmel Highway Department is seeking to complete $1.475 million in capital improvement projects that will boost its fleet of trucks and improve streets and drainage throughout the community.

Highway Superintendent Mike Simone went before the Town Board at its April 11 meeting and laid out the plans and their costs.

Simone is seeking $600,000 for the purchase of three new vehicles: two four-wheel International trucks with dump bodies, plows, and wings, as well as one 20-ton trailer.  Simone said they will replace aging vehicles that “are not going to last much longer.”

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“We try to anticipate and buy two every year. That way, we keep the fleet in good repair,” Simone told the board. “Anything that is 12 to 15 years old or older and not in great shape and busted, we have to replace it. It’s smarter [to do it that way]. We’ve done it in the past. We do it two at a time instead of waiting and then have to go out [and buy] six. I have 32 trucks and if you don’t continue [to replace them in that order], you will fall behind. It becomes problematic.”

Simone noted that in 2012, the town had to buy six trucks. 

“Because three years before that, we bought one, then none and then one, which kind of hurt us,” Simone said, explaining why it’s best to maintain a pattern of buying two trucks on an annual basis. 

“I have infused some small vehicles with the large vehicles, so I can replace my smaller fleet, which includes my foreman’s trucks, and some of my smaller plows,” he added. “We do have some town roads that are less than 14 feet wide.”

Simone said there is some money in his highway budget that could be used for the purchases.

“I believe there is $250,000 for this year. So, we have to determine if we want to spend any of that money or do we want to bond it all,” he said. “It’s the board’s prerogative. One of these trucks is $250,000, so that [money] will buy you one truck, but you’ll also deplete all that money.”

Board members noted that interest rates are low right now, so “borrowing money is cheap.” 

The board asked Simone whether he had any recommendations for prolonging the life of the trucks in his fleet.

“[The highway department headquarters] I am in is less than a half-acre lot. The vehicles are outside and there is no wash bay,” he said. “At a recent shared services meeting, the county said it may be looking at a wash station for all the county. And I am going to stainless steel bodies [for the trucks]. It is going to drive costs up, but I am trying to do everything I can do to make these trucks last. Not being able to wash them in cold weather when it’s below 32 degrees [is a problem].

“We need to find a site where we can build a bigger garage that’s heated, and we can put the trucks under cover instead of out in the open where they literally get frozen,” he added.

Simone also requested $750,000 for road-paving projects throughout town.

“We will be repaving in the neighborhood of 7 to 9 miles of road,” he said. “Our bids came in and did not move from last year, so we know that our per mile of 2-inch overlay [cost] is the same.”

Simone said he has several options at his disposal for paving.

“This is just one of the tools I use—it’s straight blacktop,” he said. “I also use mill and fill, full-depth reclamation where needed and hot-in-place recycling. These are the tools we can use. Costs will vary, but this number ($750,000) will get us to where we need to be.”

Simone said that while the cost of repaving is the same as last year, that’s likely to change.

“The price of oil is going up,” he said. “While this year’s bid is very good because it stayed the same as last year, I can tell you that for the future it’s probably going to be higher. So, we want to get as much done as possible for the lower dollar value.”

Simone said he is also looking to spend $125,000 on drainage projects.

“The number here is really $200,000, which is what I typically ask for,” he said.  “Last year, we did extensive drainage but because it was a very wet, long spring, I didn’t get started until well into mid-June. So, I have about $80,000 left over from last year. That gets me to around $200,000. If I can get into the ground in May like I’d like to, we will put in about $200,000 worth of pipe around town. We do have some [areas] that are collapsing with old metal corrugated pipes that need to be replaced. And I have some new drainage that I have to complete in places like Lake Casse and Lake McGregor.”

Councilman John Lupinacci said that while he understands all these projects are necessary, he noted the town is also undertaking other capital improvement projects, such as park upgrades, so it must keep a close eye on its debt service.

“It will grow over $2 million over the next four years,” he said. “Sometimes it is a necessary evil, [and fortunately] we do have some money we’ve realized from the general fund and now the board has to make a decision: Do we borrow it all and or start taking a little from the savings because we have done so well? It’s a balance that we have to figure out.”

Councilman Jonathan Schneider noted that the recent purchase of the Swan Cove property will also add to the debt service.

“There is going to be over a $200,000 increase that is going to start this year and will go for the next five years, based on the purchase of the property at Swan Cove,” he said. “But my bigger concern is what we are going to do with our infrastructure. [The highway department projects] are just a very small part of the pie. The number of emergency repairs we are doing all across our districts, [such as] facilities [improvements] and replacement of distribution systems, that, to me, is what I think is one of the scariest parts of what we are going to see.”

Councilman Mike Barile agreed, but pointed out this is a challenge that confronts most municipalities in New York State.

“The whole state is going to find out we are in dire need of work on our local roads and bridges,” he said. “We are going to see bridge failures, probably in the next five years, that could be dramatic and traumatic.”

Simone said he goes to Albany every year with other highway superintendents to lobby for more money for local roads and bridges but can’t seem to get the message across.

“They don’t pay heed to what the engineers are telling us,” he said. “In this town, we have been able to meet our needs, but that’s short-term. It’s a big number [for long-term].”

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