Highway Superintendent David Voss II and the Town & Village of Naples

Laurie Mercer

In the predawn hours, heading into the grapevine-covered Naples Valley near the southern tip of Canandaigua Lake, it's completely dark throughout the town and village. Arriving at the highway barn, the only illumination is on three men with a flashlight. The season's first heavy, wet snow, in mid- November, had brought down some electric lines and created an almost total blackout for the town's 2,500 residents. Several inches of wet snow covered trees, still heavy with colorful leaves. And it was unseasonably warm. Heavy, wet leaves were slowing down the drainage ditches and culvert pipes.

The plows are out, and David Voss II, superintendent of highways for both the town of Naples and village of Naples, has his hands full already with 86 rural, winding, often steep lane miles. Even in the dark he doesn't appear to be overly concerned. Following a delayed school opening that morning, the lights were all back on in about two hours.

Almost everybody knows everybody in this sleepy town. To say they look out for one another is an understatement. The highway barn chatter can take on the zest and content one might hear in the hair salon.

For the first year since anyone can remember, the town will not plow for Ontario County. More on that development later. The town's highway budget is $220,000 for roadwork with $130,000 coming from CHIPS. In the village, CHIPS supplies $30,000 for roadwork. The village allocates $10,000 for sidewalks and road maintenance. By far the lion's share of village expenses is for water treatment. They are still nine years into paying off a large loan taken for an upgrade on their water treatment system. They also endorsed $20 million for new school construction. The school system is a big reason why families prefer to live here, enjoying a more laid back lifestyle than any city.

“People here,” David said, “are averse to change.”

If they can find the funding, he would like to do about six to eight miles of roads from top to bottom, but those plans are expensive.

“For such a small area, I think we are lucky to have a good facility with enough room and really very good equipment,” he said, while crediting their equipment replacement program in the town and the village.

The town also owns its own gravel pit and has no outside customers, so the supply of low­ cost material will never run short for the town. The highway barn is probably circa 1940s, with un addition in the 1990s that collapsed under a heavy snow load and was rebuilt.

“Ontario County,” he said, “is blessed with Eastview Mall, Canandaigua Lake, a casino and race track, Honeoye Lake, and the large landfill in Seneca Falls, which makes it without a doubt one of the wealthiest counties in the state.”

Naples is kind of a magical place nestled in a valley near Canandaigua Lake, a major Finger Lake, but the boundaries of the town do not quite reach the water that once provided a major gateway to the area. It is pristine and scenic with four significant, 60-foot waterfalls and a lot of less-powerful cataracts. The population turns its back on progress if it means change. Opening a new Dollar General Store was a major challenge. Generally, people like Naples just about the way it has always been since settlers came. But as logging roads became trafficked by vehicles of all kinds, they were not well built by today's standards, so the maintenance for David's crew is ongoing.

Naples is still heavily wooded and still logged commercially. David said, “All the roads here started out as logging trails through the woods. Then, they got widened a bit near trees and everything else. Going wider still, they knocked down the banks and buried that dirt in the road. So there is no base, and it's full of clay. In wintertime, the roads are bound to break up. But when you fix a road right down to the base, it goes through a winter and comes out of it looking like it did before the storms and plows.”

The average snowfall is approximately 80 to 100 inches.

On the upside, the job is a piece of cake with no housing developments, no mini malls, no mega markets. But if you are looking for grape pies, this is the epicenter of home cooks and small, made-from-scratch kind of bakers. There is one large, growing dairy farm, and private ski club, a potato farm, and a downtown business district with plenty of “For Rent” signs. For local color, the hills are still covered with mature grapevines.

With an ideal micro-climate for grape growing due to the lake and steep hills, Naples has long been recognized for its grape culture and making wines of all kinds, including the iconic brand Manischewitz, key to all kinds of religious ceremonies. But that was then, this is now. Century-old oak casks are no longer aging on the rooftop of what was once Widmer Winery. The facility, which went through several ownerships, including upstate-headquartered Constellation Brands, was empty for several years.

As David explained, “Shutting down the winery was devastating to the town. Many people had worked there their entire lives. And suddenly, they didn't.”

Following several years of dormancy, the former Widmer Wine facility is back in business and offering wine tours, a tourist magnet in the Finger Lakes. Hazlitt, whose reputation rests with Red Cat brands, now runs the winery.

David said more visitors than ever flock to the annual Naples Arts Festival during the fall's leaf looking season. One resident said the focal point of the show seems to be straying from the arts toward a tastier emphasis on regional food. For his village and town crews combined, the festival is largely a matter of positioning port-a-johns and emptying garbage cans. David said there is surprisingly little clean up because the people who come are recyclable sorters. It's a green kind of place.

While he freely admitted to hating snow removal, he said, “It's a good job. A tremendous number of people want to work here. Outside of driving an hour into Rochester, you aren't going to find these wages and benefits easily here.”

A flexible work schedule also allows him time to keep up with his three busy kids.

He said his crews in the town and village have downsized somewhat due to retirees not being replaced. For the town, he has a crew of five, plus him. For the village, he has a crew of four, plus him. Obviously there are plenty of opportunities for shared services as he bounces between both jobs, responding to telephone calls and texts all day long. He would be lost without a cell phone; texts are quickly replacing telephone calls for communications.

Managing to Merge Village,

Town Highway Functions Successfully

While many upstate towns and village squabble endlessly about merging their boundaries and never do it, Naples has done so without too much strain and yielding obvious gains. David explained, there is always a lot of talk about merging, but not many places move forward because of many issues. It is a hot topic in a small town like this. People like the idea of saving money, but they don't like the loss of identity or the potential loss of services. For example, the village does brush and leaf pickup and plows the sidewalks, while the town has no sidewalks or leaf pickup.

“The town and village of Naples have not merged. What we did do is take a look at fairly large expenses. About five years ago, the code enforcement officer retired, and instead of replacing him wholesale, they asked the town code enforcement officer if he would like to assume those duties, at a significantly reduced cost since he already had the benefits in place.

“Then the DPW person left shortly thereafter. Nobody from within wanted to replace him, so after about 18 months they asked me if I would like to take on the village highway responsibilities in addition to the town's. It's largely a supervisory initiative in the village. The crews are completely different, but once summer is here, we help each other back and forth all the time. We share equipment and labor, but it's two separate pay checks.”

He meets with each crew separately every morning and attends village and town board meetings once a month. If there are complaints, he likes to meet the person who's doing the complaining. Most of them are the proverbial crushed mailbox and gravel left by the plow on the lawn after a storm.

“Budgets are tight. This is a small town fighting to remain just the way it is. What we have done works very well. This is where real savings come from. Cutting out an entire board or a mayor is not going to save any significant money when villages and towns merge. Instead, you can take a $60,000 supervisor or a $40,000 code enforcer and merge those tasks. The savings are going to be significant. Subtract the benefits, and it's a savings of about 70 percent to the taxpayers.”

He pointed to shared services as being key to maintaining their budgets.

“Mostly, we work with the village, South Bristol and the town of Italy.”

It's done on a handshake or an e-mail.

“We don't do any paperwork. It's a system that works well for all of us. Some towns have track excavators and we'll borrow one of them. South Bristol has a shoulder machine and we don't, so we can use that. We've got a paver, so people will want to use that. It's a good system that keeps labor and equipment costs down, using a small work force.”

Regular Equipment Replacement —

a Big Part of Both Plans

“At both facilities for town and village, we have an equipment replacement schedule that stretches to 2036, and we follow it,” said David. “Every year we know exactly how much we are going to spend. What equipment is going to auction, and what's coming in. I feel very good about the state of our equipment. The replacement plan was put into effect about 10 years ago. For example, we get a new loader every year. We just trade them in to Cat. The pickup trucks we swap out every two years. The old ones go to auction.

“The money we have for road work only has a nominal increase with time because we are contained by a tax cap.”

He uses his own spreadsheet to track expenses.

Single Dad With

Three Sons

David is an easy-going superintendent for both the town and the village of Naples. Part of why merging the town and village highway departments works so well is probably in part due to David's personality backed by ambition to be doing a good job for the residents. The only thing tugging at him and testing his good-natured humor is snow removal and his weekend winter rounds checking, which begin at 3 a.m.

David has spent most of his life here and remembers when the hills had more grapevines thriving on them and a lot more local people working in the wineries. For better-paying jobs now, he said they have a long deer-plagued commute to Rochester, where many large industries (Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb) have drastically downsized. And yet, for a town and village of this size, highway operations have sufficient space and up-to-date equipment, according to the crew, who are usually the first to identify shortcomings in any highway barn.

Where He Came From — Where He's Been

There is a sense of pride here in this pretty little town and village where, in a sense, time has stood still. Born in Canandaigua, David lived in Naples most of his life. He left briefly for seven years to attend Clarkson University and take his first job as applications engineer in Brewster, N.Y. He came back to Naples, basically to raise his kids and to avoid life on the road, which quickly got old as he did sales and repairs for high-voltage testing equipment.

“The cost of living in Westchester County is a lot. I was staying at Holiday Inns about two weeks at a stretch.” Following a 15-year marriage, he just became divorced and credits his career as making it possible for him to juggle shared custody of three young sons that puts the kids in both homes every week.

As for the Roman number II following his given name, David explained that his grandfather went through life called “Junior,” and his parents wanted to spare him that fate. There is now a David III (age 13), Logan (11), and Derrick (6). Lego tournaments are part of David's parenting skills.

He said he built his own house “on nights and weekends” about five years ago. The barn/garage, he joked, is larger than his modest-sized home. With a lot of woodworking tools in place, he enjoys making furniture. His parents, now snow birds, stay in their RV parked on his property while visiting in the summertime.

How He Got the Top Job

“I started as superintendent for the town in January 2005,' he said.

Dave worked for his father in construction, so he wasn't totally new to the job requirements. When the superintendent of the town's highways opened up, he said he didn't know much about plowing or the maintenance required for plowing.

“The person who was superintendent retired after working here his whole life — for 30 years or more. Nobody here wanted it. I wouldn't have run against them if they did. There was an open election, and I won. I had never run for anything in my entire life. I learned a lot. Since that first election, I have never had anybody run against me. This is a very Republican town.”

Why Naples Doesn't Plow County Roads Any More

Like many upstate villages and towns, Naples has long been contracted by Ontario County to plow and salt county roads, but no more.

“We are at a total disconnect with the county,” said David. This is going to be the first winter we will not be plowing county roads. We could not make it pay for itself.”

He said the 14.8 miles they plowed for the county caused them to lose a lot of money. Two neighboring towns have picked up the slack.

“Canadice is now getting what we were going to get paid and South Bristol is getting $3,000 per mile more than we were being paid. So in the end the county is paying exactly what we asked to be paid, but just to two different towns and not us.”

Untreated Salt, No Sand

When David first took the job, the town was using a 50/50 salt-sand mix on the roads.

“With pure salt, we don't have to clean up the roads in spring, and the trucks can stay out longer. We used to have to come back halfway into the route,” he said, citing one reason they no longer use sand. “We first used treated salt for 18 months, but it was way too much money. So now we use untreated salt. All of our 10-wheel trucks have been switched over to automatic controls.”

One longer-range goal for David is to be able to put a liquid application down with the treatment procedures performed right on the trucks and not back in the barn. Again there are savings to be made, plus improved productivity. Mentally, they are tooling up for it, but physically, they have to work with the budget and make adaptations to the trucks.

Having a salt surplus at year's end has been a small pot of gold that helped them pay for a new salt barn, but that was due to a mild winter. They contract for 3,000 tons a year from American Rock Salt.

“If we had three or four bad winters in a row, it could create some big problems.”

Cemeteries Benefit Greatly With Eagle Scout Wings

Plenty of people are buried in Naples's many small cemeteries now under the highway department's jurisdiction, with six in the town and one in the village. While the actual maintenance is contracted out, historic burial grounds deserve some special care. As such, it became a consuming interest for one young man who helped refurbish the historic ground to earn him an Eagle Scout badge in the Boy Scouts of America recently. He even got a local sign maker to donate decorative signage. He took the perimeter of the property back to its original roots (and uncovered long forgotten markers) while bush whacking overgrown places. He managed to repair some stones and mark others for restoration. Now the maintenance people can easily keep the new boundaries in order.

Floods, Waterfalls, and Sewer Hopefuls in the Village

Naples sits at the bottom of steep hills with many underground springs, so there is always lots of water around, even in a drought like the one this summer. Flooding on routes 245 and 21 are fairly typical during rain events.

“We've had two FEMA-related flooding events,” said David “The first one was in 2001. We got funded about $3/4-million for that. The floods caused washed out roads, broken culvert pipes, and full ditches. The second one was 2014. That was close to $2 million — same kind of damage.”

He said water runs down the steep hills very quickly, and various towns seem to get hit with serious floods at different times.

Now in discussion are the merits of taking out a loan to fund several miles of deep down repairs to some of the worst, well-traveled roads in town.

“What I like best is when you get a road completed and you don't have to worry about it for many years. When you finally get enough money to fix a road properly, you've got proper drainage, culvert pipes, good base, and the road is constructed properly to specs,” said David.

Water has always been an attraction in Naples. Even before the county purchased Grimes Glen, with its three splendid 60-foot waterfalls, the private owners of the property allowed public access to the place. Now on the county's list of attractions, the waterfalls are getting more visitors. Parking has even become a problem. While it's good to lure people outdoors, there are consequences as automobiles take over.

With dark, foaming currents at the basin of steep slippery rocks, there is a visitor's center to inform you of the important role Grimes Glen played in the stone-ground flour industry.

If there is a way for a long-range plan to keep the town buoyant financially, it rests with a need for sewer treatment in the village and business district.

“Part of what is stagnating in the village is the business district. Every building and home has its own septic system. Village water comes from underground springs that collect at two village treatment plants. So our future goals for the village are for a sewer district. They are trying right now to determine what they want. Do they rehabilitate an existing building for re-use or construct a new one? What kinds of treatments to be reviewed?”

It's a nice kind of ending for a board meeting — from sewer pipes to tourism, Naples endures like a finely aging grapevine. Its roots are secure and with careful tending, there will be a harvest every year.

“It's a great place to live.' David Voss is living the dream.

About Naples

The deed to the land around Naples occurred in March 1789 with a Phelps and Gorham property transfer to some folks in New England. The desirability of land in this part of the country was already well known. A committee of 11 was chosen to buy land for a group of 60 people wishing to homestead in a region recognized for its fertile soil and favorable weather.

There is very little recorded history about the original inhabitants — Native Americans of the Seneca tribe — but that's probably because the natives accepted the whites on their own terms and never interfered by giving them trouble. Thus, Samuel, Reuben, and Levi Parrish, formerly of Connecticut and members of their company of 60 purchasers to the property went out, accompanied by their families who remain nameless, and spent four weeks enduring a hard winter of 1790 to 1791 before they landed and stayed in what is now Naples, but was then a tiny Indian encampment.

There was no reason not to settle here since it took four weeks of hard going to get that far with two ox-teams. Fording streams, cutting their way at times and crossing the thick ice of what was then Kanadarque (now Canandaigua) Lake. The Parrish entourage quickly built rudimentary dwellings (16 by 18 feet), covered with oak shakes and held in place by poles. Soon another group joined them, 30 in all, coming in small batteaux up the Mohawk and Seneca rivers, and the Kanadarque outlet and inlet.

When it came time to sell lots to bestow land rights, drawings were often the way things were done. Each share drew one of the settling lots and three of the out-lots. More than half the owners never saw their land, including New England capitalists who could own as much as 4,000 acres.

Prior to 1796, roads to the settlement were non existent; communication traveled by lake and the inlets. The first recorded road was made April 5, 1795, leading from a homestead toward Augusta (Rushville). Early roads were described as being lined through the woods and over hills to the nearest settler, avoiding the sharpest hills and swamps. One well-traveled early road was surveyed and laid out in 1786, from a Parrish homestead to Indian Landing on Canandaigua. Moving goods on the water was much easier back then when roads were primitive and subject to seasonal impossibilities.

Bridges needed to be built to cross the big creek.

From around 1792 to 1800 there was an influx of immigrants. In no time they ran out of food. History records diets of unripe fruits and vegetables, as well as game from the fields and forest. When corn ripened there was no place to grind it, so a standing oak stump was hollowed out to hold the corn while the pestle became a community resource in use until dark. Local history says that Native Americans took their turn at grinding after the pioneers were done,

lt didn't take long for Benjamin Clark to conceive of a better plan, and he constructed three separate mill sites on the rushing creek. Mill stones from Wyoming, Pennsylvania valued at $1,000 each, were hauled by four yoke of oxen, following a road cut for them from Newton, through a forest of hemlocks, through the tiny villages of Bath and Painted Post.

Various names for Naples come and went until 1808 when Naples took hold. The town of Italy went on its own after that. At the very first town meeting several men were appointed (without pay) to the tasks of highway commissioner, path master, fence viewers, pound masters, and poor masters.

Imagine the sighs of relief for local farmers who now had their own milling resources. Previously they went to Bath, carrying their grist on their backs to their canoes. As milling began, the creek brought them free power, producing a variety of goods manufactured, including clothing, wool carding, lumber and flour. Because hard currency was scarce, barter was common. In the general store, wild animal furs, Indian trinkets, maple sugar, and lumber were taken in exchange for goods. The first recorded death came to a Seneca chief named Kanesque, who went to the happy hunting ground at age 100.

Early Naples residents are recognized for their fervent patriotism. As early as the war of 1812 to 1815, the town furnished a militia, when planting crops in the field might have been on their minds instead. Two hundred more local men went to serve in the War of 1861 to 1865. By the late 1800s it was a happening kind of place with newspapers, dry goods, pharmacy, boots and shoes, stationer and bookseller, tailors, jewelers, harness makers, furniture, milliners, road houses and hotels, including the Naples Hotel, which is still in business for meals, drinks, and rooms. You can still sit in a rocker on the front porch and watch traffic go by.

The incredible Grimes Glen with three, 60 foot, drop dead-gorgeous waterfalls is one such example. The county bought the property from private landowners who had always allowed the public unfettered access to the glen. It's not hard to imagine how the rushing water once powered several mills at this site. Two waterfalls can be hiked to, and the third one can be summited using ropes on site.

Largely because of the Internet, waterfalls actually have fan clubs and followers. Now on the county's website for places to go, the increased visibility and popularity for Grimes Glen has caused the highway crew to put up signage warning about parking in front of private homes, a trail head parking area, and an information kiosk that was created by the county so visitors can appreciate how important this place was once for commercial uses, and not just for its natural beauty.

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