Highway Superintendent Elizabeth Aubin and the Town of Worth
Mary Yamin-Garone - PROFILE CORRESPONDENT - June 2023
At first glance, the town of Worth's highway department may not be what you'd expect. In a world overrun by technology, this do-it-yourself kind-of-town believes in doing just that.
Under the direction of part-time Superintendent of Highways Elizabeth Aubin, the town's highway department does everything from working in the woods to running the equipment,
For Elizabeth, well, she's just doing her job.
Her full-time job consists of working in the woods 50 hours a week, running a log loader and driving a tri-axial log truck. She also puts in roughly 15 to 20 hours a week for the highway department.
This day, she's putting her straps on her log truck so she can deliver a load of firewood.
Born and raised in Worth, Elizabeth comes from a family of loggers. Her great grandfather, grandfather and father all logged.
"My dad took over the logging business in 1987," she said. "I started working in the woods in 1992. I was 15. I cut and split firewood with my dad and the higher guys. I went back to school and worked almost every weekend and all vacations. I graduated from South Jefferson Central School, in Adams, New York, in 1995 and went to work full-time in the woods."
Elizabeth is fourth generation in the family logging business. She started operating skidders, log loaders, dozers and running heavy equipment.
"I did that for over a year and a half. My dad and I had a falling out. He told me to do something different with my life. I went to work as a waitress and enjoyed that. Two years later, my dad asked me to come back to work. So, I got my CDL license in November 1999. In 2007, we had another falling out, so I went back to work at that same restaurant."
Fast forward two years. Elizabeth wanted to breathe the fresh air again.
"My dad was begging me to come back. I was tired of being indoors. I was ready to be outdoors again. I went back to work in December of 2009, and I've been here ever since. I have my crew and my dad has his and we usually have two jobs running all the time. I still work in the woods and run the highway department."
Why Become a Superintendent?
"In February of 2020 my town supervisor asked if I'd be interested in running for the position because he was retiring at year's end," Elizabeth said. "He was the deputy to the previous superintendent, who was elected in 2019 for another two years. Come January 1, he quit. He didn't want to do it anymore. The gentleman who was the deputy CIO filled the position for that year and was looking for someone else to do it. They asked if I'd be interested since I was born and raised there here.
"They knew I had the background with running equipment and things like that. I said I'd think about it. I was hesitant. I wasn't sure how much time it would take away from my job with my dad and how he'd deal with it. I decided late in the fall, ‘I'm gonna' do it.' There ended up being five other people were interested. All wrote in for the highway superintendent position and I won. I don't remember how many votes I got. Then, I had to run again in 2021 for the next two-year terms because they needed someone to fill in the second year of the term. So, I decided to do it. I enjoyed it. It was different and I enjoyed the talents of the job. It was a little out of my element in certain things, but I knew how to do a lot of the stuff. In 2021, I decided to do it again in 2022. I filled out the paperwork to be on the ballot and had to run in the primary. Another gentleman was running against me and beat me. I didn't give up. I'll just run as a write-in again. I campaigned for the entire month the month before elections. I went door to door and won in November as a write in."
Has it been everything you expected?
"It's that and more," she said. "I was overwhelmed at first. My first year, I was scared. I didn't do much other than try to learn as much as possible. There weren't any road projects except the normal maintenance. I tried to update equipment, but they didn't have a five- or 10-year plan. That's what my goal was trying to do. It's hard to get the town board on that because our town is smaller. There's no revenue, basically just our property taxes and what sales tax the county gives back to us. So, we have a small budget to operate with. It's a big number. Six hundred thousand is what my budget was for this year. We don't even bring in that much money in our property taxes and revenues."
All in the Family
Elizabeth is married to her husband, Steven, for 17 years and does construction. They have three children.
"Jonathan, 25, is a realtor. He worked in the woods with me for several years. He wanted to see the world, so he went to work for another company and ventured out to see the country. His girlfriend is Maria and my three-year-old grandson is Lawson. Son Patrick Gardner is 24 and works for a company near Atlanta, Georgia, where he does airport runway striping. I also have a 20-year-old daughter Lillie- Ann Olley. She's a cook and licensed hairdresser."
She also has brothers Paul, William and Richard.
In what little spare time she has, Elizabeth enjoys wheeling, reading, snowmobiling and being outdoors.
All in a Day's Work
When it comes to the highway department's garage it gets a bit tricky.
"Our space is limited," Elizabeth said. "The town doesn't have much. We have a storage shed for salt. It's like a little three-sided building that holds approximately 70 tons of salt. There's also a pole barn and a town barn. The new town barn was converted over from a church that was built in the mid- to late 1800s. I think it's 60 ft. by 60 ft. Our original one burned back in the mid 1940s.
"We used to have a town hall, but it got condemned with black mold and was demolished last fall. That's the big project we're trying to do. We want a new town barn and municipal office space. The town didn't want to spend $3.4 million three years ago to do all this. So now we have to put it on hold."
Unlike many other highway superintendents, Elizabeth "works from home."
"There's a room upstairs. I like to take my computer downstairs with me because I don't have Internet service, so I go down there and do my work."
In her role as highway superintendent, Elizabeth is responsible for maintaining the town's 44 town and 38 county lane miles of road, 14 of which are gravel. That translates into three plowing routes that take anywhere from two to three hours to clear.
Like any highway super, Elizabeth knows a first-rate, loyal crew is worth its weight in gold.
Her three-man crew helps serve the town's residents. Full-time staff includes Bernard Pooler (31 years), Jeffrey Fletcher (17 years) and Jeffrey Pierce (five months).
"I want to thank them for accepting me as their boss. I hope they know I recognize how hard they work. They do a great job and it's done with dedication and good humor. Each one has a skill and I try and put each one where their strengths are. I must say. when we are under fire and have to get it done, they rise to the occasion. I hope to be able to continue moving forward with new ideas and new and improved ways of doing things."
Elizabeth is the first to say that gender doesn't matter when it comes to being highway superintendent.
"I came here with the knowledge of how to do things, but it didn't make the job any easier. You must be organized, keep good records and have a good crew."
The town of Worth's highway department runs on a total operating budget of $578,439 that includes employee salaries and benefits and an annual CHIPS allocation of $72,213. The town also receives $32,514 for PAVE-NY and $56,312 for Extreme Winter Recovery.
To help carry out its duties the department uses a bevy of equipment that includes:
- 1988 John Deere 770A grader
- 2022 Volvo SD75B vibratory roller
- 1999 International truck
- 2002 International truck
- 2005 International truck
- 1996 Case tractor
- 2004 New Holland 6640 mowing tractor
- 2002 Cat loader
- 2019 Chevy truck
- 1980 York rake
- 1992 Brush Bandit wood chipper
- 2003 International S/A dump truck
- 1966 Caterpillar D6 dozer
- 2006 Caterpillar 320 excavator
- 1971 Oshkosh 4 x 4 truck
- 1972 Oshkosh 4 x 4 truck
- 1966 Oshkosh 4 x 4 truck
- 1995 Oshkosh 4 x 4 truck
- 2021 Cat loader
- 2019 Ford F350
- 2009 Mack tandem
- 1991 Gradall 660E
- 1989 Oshkosh plow truck
Since buying new vehicles is rarely an option, Elizabeth has to do what she can with what she has.
"Every year when they do the budget, they just put a dollar amount in there. I'll use last year as an example. This year we budgeted $110,000 for new equipment. Last year I spent $25,000 and bought used equipment. I wanted to buy a new roadside mowing tractor since we have lots of CHIPS money because it was never used, but they wouldn't let me.
"They've been rolling money over for 30 years or however long this program has been in effect. I use approximately $60,000 between CHIPS, Pave-NY and Emergency Winter Recovery and the Pave Our Potholes [POP]. It has to be used to resurface and blacktop roads. Last year, if I hadn't spent that $60,000, just in my CHIPS money alone, it would be $250,000 between all four programs. I was going to have around $320,000.
"I ended up rolling over $86,000 from last year's equipment. Then they rolled that over, so it goes into the budget again. They've never let me do a five-year plan. I've tried it twice. My board is fairly new. They just don't understand. Instead of that money getting rolled back over to be in the budget every year, it should be put into a capital reserve account for equipment or whatever. That way that money is budgeted, so in 10 years we'd have the money for something. I guess that's one of those things. The board is new, and they don't really know exactly how things work, either. I'm teaching them things along the way that they should already know. We're all learning, so it's difficult for all of us."
Time for the lightening round.
What surprised you the most? "The fact that there's so many people in this town who enjoy their dirt roads. Then again, there's lots of them who want their roads blacktopped.
What disappointed you? "How against updating the town people are."
What are you looking forward to doing during your tenure? "I'd like to update our equipment. It's from the ‘60s and ‘80s. I don't want brand new equipment. Our town can't afford that, but we'd like 30 years old, not 60."
The most important part? "Maintaining the roads and communicating with workers, the town board and the people."
Your proudest moment? "Seeing the first blacktop put down on a town road."
What projects would you like to see completed before you retire? "It's not a highway project, but I hope the town can have a new facility built in the near future."
When all is said and done what would you like to do? "To be honest, I don't ever want to retire. I want to be like my grandfather. He was 85 when he passed away. He worked right up until he was 84, running his big front-end loader at the quarry and loading trucks and the screening center. That's what I want to do. I just want to work and if I want to take a vacation I can."
About the Town of Worth
The town of Worth is located in the southern corner of the county of Watertown in Jefferson County. The population was 231 at the 2010 census. Its greatest population was in 1900, at 2,895. The town is named after William Worth, a commander of troops during the Battle of Sackett's Harbor.
It was first settled circa 1802. Difficulties in successful settlement and the War of 1812 led to a partial abandonment of the town. It was created by separation from the town of Lorraine in 1848. An earlier attempt to form this town was disrupted by the War of 1812.
Worth stands on the northwest side of the Tug Hill Plateau. According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 43.3 sq. mi., of which 43.2 sq. mi. are land and 0.077 sq. mi., or 0.20 percent are water.
The southern town line is the border of Oswego County and the eastern (and part of the northern) town line is the border of Lewis County.
As of 2000, there were 234 people, 96 households and 67 families residing in the town. Communities and locations in Worth include:
- Bullock Corners — a location in the northwestern corner of Worth and west of Worth village.
- Diamond — a hamlet in the southwestern corner of the town on County Road 95. The community was once called "South Woods."
- Frederick Corners — a hamlet near the western town line at County Roads 93 and 95.
- Lorraine Gulf — a valley in the northwestern part of Worth.
- Seven by Nine Corners — a hamlet in the northeastern corner of the town on County Road 96.
- Stears Corners — a hamlet near the western town line on County Road 96
- South Sandy Creek — a stream flowing through the northern part of Worth.
- Worth (previously called "Worthville" and "Wilcoxs Corners") — a hamlet on County Road 189 in the northwestern corner of the town.
- Worth Center — a hamlet southeast of Worth village, located on County Road 93.
(History courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worth,_New_York)