It’s a combination of common sense, frugality, creativity and innovation.
That’s how Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith described Highway Superintendent Gio Woodson’s knack for making do and saving money for capital investments and equipment purchases.
Town officials gathered at the Riverhead Highway Department headquarters on Osborn Avenue this morning to dedicate the newly constructed, 6,600-square-foot storage building at the facility.
Woodson said he saved for six years to be able to bankroll the $620,000 cost of the project from his regular budget. He was able to put away the money by saving expenses in other places, including buying used equipment and vehicles.
“With Gio, common sense comes first,” Jens-Smith said. “He looks out for the taxpayers.”
The building, which is heated, has the capacity to store 26 highway department trucks. They had previously been stored outside, in the elements. Being able to store the them in a heated building means they will be ready to roll as soon as there are road conditions requiring sanding, salting and plowing.
“We’re able to pre-load them in advance of a storm, which makes our response time much faster and ultimately cuts down on overtime,” Woodson said.
“When we had to store them outdoors, any materials in the truck would get wet and freeze,” Deputy Highway Superintendent Mike Zaleksi said. “This has really helped us save time.”
Indoor storage will extend the life of a vehicle by five to 10 years, Woodson said.
Woodson has managed to replace much of an aged fleet with second-hand vehicles sold as surplus by other governments, including the U.S. military. Now, he said, he’s implementing a regular upgrade program, looking to buy two “new” vehicles each year, so that the fleet overall stays in good shape. “Otherwise you have everything breaking down at once,” Woodson said.
“The guys in our shop are very meticulous about keeping our trucks and all our equipment in tip-top shape,” the highway superintendent said.
Today Woodson was happy to show off one of two used trucks he’s purchased from the county. With the cost of refurbishment included, they cost the highway department under $100,000. Brand-new trucks of the same size and type would run about $170,000 apiece, he said. In addition, the town will be reimbursed part of the cost of the trucks by the state, Woodson said, because Riverhead is participating in the Suffolk County shared services program. The program was initiated by the governor to encourage municipalities to pool their resources for purposes of bidding on supplies and equipment and sharing services among different levels of local government.
“Kudos to Gio and the entire crew here,” Deputy Supervisor Tim Hubbard said. “They really have a small crew to handle all the roads in this town the way they do.”
Councilwoman Catherine Kent said she has been impressed with how much cleaner and better-looking the highway yard is looking.
“This building was a long time in the making. It was a battle for the funds to get this done,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said. “This will help get you out faster in storms and keep the roads safer for our citizens,” she said.
Woodson said he has saved the money to replace the siding on the main building, where the automotive shop is located. The existing wood siding is rotting in places and needs a major overhaul. He said he plans to replace it with vinyl siding this fall.
The highway superintendent thanked the town engineering department and the buildings and grounds crew for all their assistance with various projects. Assistant town engineer Ernest Rossini, intern John Vail and engineering aide Paul Birmingham were at the dedication ceremony.
Riverhead Central School District transportation co-direcgtor Leslie Moore was also on hand for the dedication. “We rely on Gio a lot,” Moore said. “The guys are great. They do an amazing job. Our roads are a lot safer because of the way they do their jobs.”