Highway Superintendent Tony Sharan and the Town of Ramapo

Mary Yamin-Garone

Tony Sharan is a man comfortable in his own skin. He handles himself with confidence and ease as he tells of his journey to this job and his plans to leave things better than he found them.

Born and bred in this history-laden town, Tony attended Spring Valley High School. He started working as a seasonal employee for the highway department in the summer of 1965.

“In those days, there wasn't much work around here,” he said. “You went to school or found a job. I returned to the department full-time in September of 1966 as a laborer. Due to a low draft number, a good friend of mine enlisted in the Marine Corps on the buddy plan. With the help of a few cold beers, I agreed to join, too. After spending nearly four years in the service [28 months was overseas], I got out with an honorable discharge. Then I went back to work at the highway department.

“Coming up through the ranks, there wasn't a job I didn't do,” Tony said. “I laid pipe, did blacktop work, cut trees, plowed snow — everything that's involved with the highway department. During my course of employment, I moved up to motor equipment operator. Then I started taking civil service tests and attained the rank of highway maintenance supervisor 1 [road foreman] and then highway maintenance supervisor 2 and 3. That was the highest [rank] before becoming highway superintendent. I retired from that HMS3 position to become the super.”

Tony admits it was never his intent to be a highway superintendent. So what happened?

“In 2006, the former superintendent became ill and had to leave office. At that time, I was an HMS3 [general foreman]. The villages we service approached me about taking the superintendent of highways job. I was appointed by the town board in June 2007 for six months. They had a special election that fall for the remaining year on the existing term, which I won.”

This superintendent is currently vice president of the Rockland County Soil and Water Board; past president of the Rockland County Highway Superintendents Association; and a life member of the Monsey Fire Department. He also has been attending the Cornell Highway School for Highway Superintendents in Ithaca, N.Y., for the past 25 years. The classes focus on road and bridge maintenance techniques, traffic calming and safety measures, working with and managing difficult soil conditions, complying with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation drainage and sediment control measures, managing equipment and personnel and continuing education in programs related to maintaining public safety throughout your municipality.

“You get to meet other highway supers. You learn a lot by talking to them and seeing how and why they do things.”

Tony has been married to wife, Linda, since 1973. They have two children. Cristine and her husband, Jeff, live in New Paltz. She's a painter and owns an antique store. Son James lives in Nyack and works for the highway department. In his spare time, the couple loves spending time in Florida and North Carolina.

Tony will hang up his superintendent's hat in January 2017.

“It was a family decision,” he said. “My wife said, 'You're not going to run anymore. You've been here long enough.' She's right. It's been a good run. Fifty-three years. I'm looking forward to retirement.”

That retirement will mean playing more golf and traveling.

“We want to go out to the West Coast. My wife has never been across the country. I was based out there for a while and fell in love with certain areas. I also was stationed in North Carolina. That's why I love it so much there.”

The Job

The old highway department garage was built in the 1930s. It's currently being utilized by the Department of Public Works (DPW).

“The building our department resides in was built in 1989 and is approximately 17,000 sq. ft.”

There are seven bays, which are about 85 ft. deep, for equipment storage, as well as office space, a locker room, lunchroom, tool room, sign shop and a 3,000-ton salt shed.

“We don't have enough space for all our trucks,” he said. “We work off a small stamp. We probably can fit 20 trucks. It's undersized for what we have. Some of our trucks are sitting outside. So is our cold storage.”

As highway superintendent, Tony is responsible for maintaining 490 miles of road that includes 180 lane miles in Ramapo, 260 lane miles in the villages the department maintains and 50 lane miles of state roads. That translates into 27 plowing routes that take at least three hours to complete. In addition to the town, the highway department also services the roads for seven other villages: New Square, Kaiser, Montebello, Chestnut Ridge, New Hempstead, Wesley Hills and Pomona.

“We put 27 trucks on the road. Some runs take at least 20 minutes to drive to; then, they have to drive back for another load of salt. The biggest run is 10 or 11 miles. The driver gets help if someone nearby gets done first. We put four trucks out in the village I live in. Four trucks doing 36 miles of road comes out to 9 miles per truck. Each storm is different. You might get more snow down south than they did up north. Once the roads are plowed and salted, the foreman sends the driver someplace else.”

Tony's crew of four highway maintenance supervisor 1s; one highway maintenance supervisor 2; and three highway maintenance supervisor 3s help him serve the town's 135,000 residents. Key personnel include Edward O'Connell, general foreman; Thomas DeMont, assistant general foreman; and Jean Marie Garrison, secretary.

“There wasn't a deputy when I started and there isn't one now,” Tony said. “Back in 1990 or '91, the town split up the highway department and formed the DPW. It was kind of a shock. At one time, we had nine mechanics. Now we depend on the DPW's men. The central garage fixes all the town's vehicles, including the police, parks and sewer departments. Five mechanics and a shop foreman work there. Right now, all the mechanics are getting my trucks serviced and prepped for the winter. The sewer department has eight employees. They're equipment operators, laborers, sewer plant operators and various other classifications. Then there's the engineering department with four engineers and two secretaries. That's all separate from me. When it comes to crunch time, I might send two guys over there to work with them just to help out. When you have 27 trucks on the road plowing snow, sometimes the older ones need a little more love and care than the newer ones.”

Under Tony's direction, the town of Ramapo highway department runs on a total operating budget of $7 million that includes salaries and benefits for employees, an annual CHIPS allocation of $203,000 and a salt budget line of $450,000.

Today's tough economic times and skyrocketing prices can make it difficult for highway departments to buy new equipment. Having a moratorium on spending makes it even harder.

“Due to some legal issues, we couldn't bond anything this year,” Tony said. “The FCC told us the town attorney and supervisor couldn't sign for bonds until their case was over. This past year, the town was going to bond me $1 million for the roads, but I never got the money. Instead, we used CHIPS money. It was all we had to work with. I had operating money for patching and pipe work and things like that, but I didn't have capital funds.”

Tony is hopeful things will turn around in 2017.

“We need to replace two bucket loaders, two street sweepers, five plow trucks with multi-use dump bodies, two backhoes, a bucket truck and several small tandem dump trucks. I also want to buy a portable asphalt machine so we can make our own asphalt for the winter.

“I've been trying to get them to lease to buy but they don't seem to want to move on it. They don't seem interested. I'm still using a 2001 loader that's in poor shape. We've been replacing parts just to keep it moving. I recently put $25,000 into it to make sure it's ready for the winter. I think leasing may be the way to go. We'll pay more because we're buying a lease, but at least we can start using the equipment.”

For Tony, state-of-the art technology in today's vehicles has its pros and cons. On the plus side, “There's a GPS in all our trucks so we know where to find them if they break down. The Doppler Radar lets us know when it's going to snow. We don't know exactly where the heaviest snow's going to fall until the last two hours or so, but we know it's going to snow. The new plow trucks are driver-friendly. They're also more fuel efficient and have fewer breakdowns so we're not spending much time or money on parts and equipment.”

On the down side, “With the new computer systems, if you don't have the program set up in your shop to make sure everything is working right or if the check engine light goes on, you have to call the dealer. There's always a glitch somewhere along the way.”

It's not just the equipment that's changed. The highway superintendent's job has, too.

“We're doing more work at fixed times of the year. I bought a hot box a few years ago so I can blacktop all winter and our billing and tracking are more efficient.”

Over the years, Tony and his crew have dealt with numerous storms and hurricane-related events, the most recent being Hurricane Sandy.

“There was a lot of damage. We couldn't get on the roads because wires were down and we didn't know if they were live or dead. At night, I'd get our standby crew out to make sure the wires were cut and tagged and the road would be cleared the next day. It took three months to clean up everything.”

Since he's been at the helm, Tony and his crew have:

• Completed a major $7 million rebuild of the Maple Avenue area with new drainage. They also widened sidewalks to 7 ft., added decorative lighting, widened the roadway with turning lanes and added crosswalks;

• Cleaned up after Hurricanes Sandy and Irene, which included replacing a bridge on Mountain Road;

• Replaced pipe on Hilda Lane and Hershel Terrace ($500,000);

• Installed and implanted a 10,000-gallon salt brine plant; and

• Conducted normal maintenance of the town's drainage systems.

He'd still like to:

• Rebuild the highway garage to suit the department's needs;

• Update equipment;

• Secure funding for ADA handicap ramps throughout the town and the villages the highway department services;

• Improve snow and oil and chip operations; and

• Provide better services to the residents.

As his days with the highway department dwindle down, Tony took a minute to reflect on his years of service.

“Being the superintendent of highways has been my proudest moment. I never figured I'd be one. It was never on my bucket list. It's been very satisfying.”

About the Town of Ramapo*

Established in 1791, the town of Ramapo is in Rockland County, N.Y., 28 miles northwest of New York City. Formerly known as New Hempstead, the name Ramapo is derived from an Algonquin word that meant “round pond” or “sweet water.” Ramapo developed on the early stagecoach route between New York City and Albany, which passed through the Ramapo pass. It was settled with Native Americans of the Lenape Tribe, slaves, German, Irish and Dutch settlers. Farming and any type of trade associated with farming were the only sources of making a living.

The town of Ramapo and Rockland County played an important part in the Revolutionary War. Commander-in-Chief George Washington is said to have climbed the Ramapo Torne (near Sloatsburg) with a telescope to watch the July 24, 1777, sailing of the British fleet off Sandy Hook in New Jersey. General Washington and his troops set up an encampment in Suffern, in the west of Ramapo, due to its strategic location near a local mountain pass. In this encampment were two French soldiers, Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau and Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. The camp was on the path to Yorktown, Va., where the final battle of the American Revolution took place. During the war, the town of New Hempstead was formed from part of the town of Haverstraw in 1791, eight years after the end of the Revolution. In 1829, the name was changed to Ramapo.

The present-day town was originally inhabited by the Munsee, a band of the Lenape nation. Their descendants now live on Stag Hill in Mahwah, N.J., where they form the state-recognized Ramapo Lenape Nation.

The first railroad line across Rockland County was built in 1841 and ran from Piermont to Ramapo. By 1851, the line was extended to Lake Erie, and was considered an engineering marvel.

Ramapo Iron Works, located near present-day State Route 17 at the base of Terse Mountain, was a producer of the first cut nails made in America, wood screws, cotton cloth and spring steel in the first half of the 19th century. Its founder, Jeremiah H. Pierson, was influential in building the Nyack Turnpike and the New York and Erie Railroad across the county. A cotton mill is still standing on the east side of the road.

In 1916, what would become State Route 59, which reached from Nyack to Spring Valley in 1915, was extended to Suffern and Hillburn.

Ramapo became one of the first cities to use Adequate Public Facilities acts to tier growth and infrastructure together.

As of the 2010 census, the total population was 126,595. If Ramapo were incorporated as a city, it would be the sixth-largest city in New York State.

In 2012, CNNMoney magazine ranked Ramapo as the 58th best place in the United States and the best place to live in New York. Arts and leisure, business, housing, low crime rates and open spaces/parkland determined the town's ranking. In the category of park space, percentage of land set aside for gardens and parks, the town finished first. Ramapo received the highest rating and one of the best in the country for its open spaces and parkland.

Under the present administration, the town has been active in land purchasing in line with its open space policy. It has purchased an old sand quarry; built a sports complex; bought an old horse farm and made it into an Equestrian Center; operates a top-rated golf course; and built one of the best minor league baseball stadiums in the country.

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