Highway and Parks Superintendent Ed McLaughlin and the Town of Farmington

Laurie Mercer

The number of brand new highway facilities being built has never been robust. Such is not the case in Farmington, just east of Rochester, where a circa 1960 thoroughbred racetrack that expanded into a full-service gambling Racino is funding a brand new highway garage and offices.

Ed McLaughlin, superintendent for highways and parks in the town said that Finger Lakes Gaming and Racing — the only privately owned thoroughbred racetrack in the state — is slated to become an even larger gambling destination with the advent of “table games” and a hotel. The upgrade in the planning stages would rival nearby Turning Stone, a casino with a highrise hotel and convention center connected to Native American business interests.

The town of Farmington, which is still considered agricultural with typically two-lane treated roads, has 180 lane miles to care for. They mow 32 lane miles for the county and 7 for the DOT. The town’s budget for parks and highways is $1.8 million, with CHIPS contributing $143,000. County Road #8 pretty much cuts the town in half.

The state spent millions of dollars on Route 232 not too long ago so that Farmington has some enormous intersections that seem to encourage speeding. Ed’s solution would be at least one roundabout, a solution that is gaining in popularity in this part of the state.

Coming in a Winner for the Town

Money from the track to the town is mandated by state law to approximately five or six communities, where a state-run gambling operation of some type takes place. Hosting the facility, of course, adds to the DPW costs, so a payout of approximately 1.5 percent of what the state takes from the facility is designated to go to the town.

While the exact split has been fiddled with by politicians in Albany (“Don’t get me up on my soap box,” said Ed about it) for Farmington the tab has been about $1.4 million for the past few years. Ed said the money is always difficult to get out of Albany where the past three governors (including the current one) have sought to hold onto that sliver of success for the town, so far to no avail.

Following a $20 million expansion on Farmington’s wastewater treatment facility four years ago, the town board recognized the need for a new highway barn. Ed anticipates a big ribbon cutting on the 48,000-sq.-ft. facility to happen around mid-November. Situated on 48 acres the town purchased with a 100 by 220-sq.-ft. cold storage for equipment and a 4,000 to 5,000-ton covered salt area, the new garage represents a significant upgrade to their mid-1960 building.

While being interviewed in his office, Ed was excited about the prospects for the new building as he hears that the steel has just arrived at the construction site nearby.

“We are in an 11,000-square-foot building here,” he said, looking around his office. “It is tight, and when you add plowing equipment, it is impossible. I have a new truck coming soon and no place to park it.” He said that the radiant heat in the new facility will be “huge” when it comes to extending the life of the town’s heavy equipment.

He said the town’s heavy equipment is completely worn out by the time they part with it. On the wish list is a mini rubber tire excavator.

Ed is a friendly, cheerful guy who answers his own phone, “Highway.” He said he is not a computer whiz, but he can scan the screen for weather patterns and pretty much tell you what to expect from nature in the next half hour.

He said a lot of the ideas for the new facility came from investigating the town of Ogden’s highway department building, which was built about 10 years ago. The new facility will be larger, with five separate offices for managers, cold storage for equipment and a fabric or wood structure to store 4,000 to 5,000 tons of salt.

“Wherever we are going, it will be light years from where we are today,” he said. “The pole barn holds 100 tons of salt. If we run three times a day, I only have two days of salt storage to work with.”

He nearly ran out of salt in 2004 during his first winter on the job when he said it took him three weeks to get salt from the American Rock Salt mine in Hampton’s Corners about 40 miles away.

There are some admirable green features in the new building, including radiant heat throughout the work areas, high-efficiency lighting, five separate offices, and a storm water treatment system that makes the building and grounds crew responsible for “capturing, treating, retaining and cleaning up the run-off water,” which collects in specially built holding ponds by the property. The ponds reflect current environmentally sensitive building codes addressing runoff. The water has already attracted Canada geese.

Technology-wise the department is already hooked into the county’s fiber optic ring. The highway/parks employees will have newly created narrow bandwidths on their radios by year’s end. Radio transmission requires piles of paperwork, in this instance the bandwidths have to be in agreement with nearby Canada.

The town court, where case loads are growing along with the town’s population, is also crowded and cramped in the town hall. Following extensive renovation, town court will move its operations into the current highway garage. The town parks department, also under Ed’s supervision, is also cramped in an off-site location. Parks and recreation will move into the other half of the highway facility. Ed is clearly enjoying wearing a new hat as “building and grounds superintendent” for the new building. His crew of 15 for highways and 3 for parks has been involved in constructing many of the steps including site preparation and creating the building pad.

He called the crew “a clever bunch” where common sense rules. “The guys do like working on the new facility,” he said. “They get to play with their toys. We’ve got a 4,700-pound excavator, a dozer and a grader. Give them a chance to use the tools and they are on it.”

Even the road to the new place is to the crew’s specifications. Ed explained, “We saved a lot of money by using our own crew — maybe even as much as $1 million when we are through with the building. The road we built to the facility we first boxed out and then put some fabric down. Then we filled in 1.5 feet of cobbled stones and 1.5 feet of compacted topsoil, topped by 1.5 feet of millings. Finally we put chip seal on top of that.”

Ed’s enthusiasm in building this section of 1,800 ft. of superior roadway, which will see a lot of heavy equipment traffic might reflect the fact that many of his town roads are in desperate need of reprofiling.

“We have a lot of treated roads,” he explained. “Previous superintendents built those roads, and I have no base history on them. They have been chip sealed over the years, or had a top put on it and in that process you start with a crown, and the edges start falling apart, and finally you have to wedge them. But the more you wedge the worse it gets. Right now I’m at the point where I have to start to reprofiling the roads.”

In reprofiling, Ed said he can mill the road or overlay them. “Those are the only two choices I have.”

Other projects that need constant attention are ditches.

“Thank goodness for flat level ground and deep ditches,” he said. “We have a drainage district on this side of County Road #8 and there is a tax involved. We have easements on the majority of the ditches. My first couple of years here we took care of about 60 percent of the ditches that hadn’t been done in some time. I would like to create another drainage district for the other side of town, but that is complicated.”

How Did Parks Become Part

of Highways?

Farmington has a total of 88 acres of parkland compromising five fully developed, separate park areas. A new park is in the planning stages. That’s a lot of parking lots, baseball diamonds, pavilions, a comfortable full service lodge for rent, tennis courts, volleyball nets, playgrounds, nature trails and several public bathrooms. The entire parks department is crammed into a smallish facility and under Ed’s supervision.

“My department includes parks because the former superintendent came from the parks department,” said Ed. “I do believe that at some point soon the town board will have to reconsider the situation. Parks is understaffed and under budgeted and it is growing. We have five parks right now and will have six very soon.”

Caring for parks includes beautification with extensive plants and flowers. The department purchases things like snapdragons in hundreds of flats at a time. Some highway improvements are subtle, such as changing the outdoor lighting in a park pavilion to make it more efficient, safer and less disturbing to neighbors with ambient light. Ed’s crew was used to extend and rebuild the parking lot.

Where Are All These People Coming From?

New home starts may be down in upstate, but Farmington, with just fewer than 12,000 people, is on a roll with substantial residential development.

“I don’t know where these people are coming from, but we are rapidly becoming a bedroom community. There is a huge subdivision going into the southeast corner of town with 475 units and more to come. There are another 150 units under plan right now.”

Ed said the homes being built are in the $150,000 to $350,000 range with a mix of styles and square footage. There is no low income housing here. There also are plenty of cul de sacs, which are the snowplow operators least favorite routes.

Even though Farmington is still considered an agricultural community, times are changing. Although there are plenty of new horse farms, most of them are devoted to the racetrack. Ed grew up in town on a 90-acre dairy farm that originally came from his grandmother’s side of the family. His grandfather worked the farm, followed by his dad. In time he said his father had to give up farming because it was no longer profitable. Most of the original land, half in Victor and half in Farmington, was recently sold.

After Ed graduated from high school he went into the Air Force and was stationed in Denver and northern Thailand during the Vietnam War.

“I was a weapons mechanic. I loaded bombs onto the fighter jets.”

When he returned home he met Linda, his wife of 36 years, while on a blind date. Jokingly he said, “I got a life sentence.”

Their three children — Jason, Kate and Adam are all married and have children. Two of them live nearby where Ed delights in being with his five grandkids, with a new one “on the way.” In late May he still had a nice suntan from a family cruise in the Caribbean arranged to celebrate his 60th birthday. He has a good sense of humor. When a woman telephones the garage seeking to have her car’s tires aligned, he good-naturedly steers her in the right direction.

Following the Air Force he took a job with the DPW in the town of Victor in 1980. Starting as a laborer he worked his way up and got his license for water and wastewater treatment. That job lasted about 15 years. He went to work for a contractor and then became the construction inspector of the town of Farmington. When the opening for superintendent of highways and parks opened up in mid-term, he was chosen by the town board to fill the vacancy. The following year he had to run for the office and he won.

His end game is quick and simple, “I’ve been hired to do a job, and I think we are pretty damn good at doing the job.” With a 32-year-long career in public service, he said his window on retirement is still “wide open.”

Big Believer in Advocacy Days and Shared Services

When superintendents go to Albany every year to make their presence known, Ed is always among them wearing his bright orange shirt, which helps identify the group. He is also past president of his county’s highway superintendent association and active on a state-wide level as well. On Advocacy Days in Albany he said, “We’ve been running about 600 attendees out of the 900 or so who qualify. I understand why some people can’t make it, but this is about money. Legislators do take notice of us. We’d like to see all of our members there.”

One of the necessary changes for Ed and others to address are the new regulations on reflective signage.

“This is an unfunded mandate and you have to get the money from somewhere to pay for it. Signage isn’t cheap. The DOT adopted the federal code, which changes the size of the letters used. Now they are mandating upper and lower case. This is costing the towns a lot of money at a time when budgets are tight.

“Highway is usually the largest item on a town’s budget. And for us we’ve had to increase the funding to reflect the reality of today’s equipment and materials. We used to be funded for about $140,000 for a new truck, but that cost is more like $210,000 today. Commodities such as fuel and steel are going through the roof and we don’t have any control over that.” One way he can cut costs is to “not put so much hot mix down.”

On the plus side Ed said taxpayers receive a big benefit from shared services between the 16 towns in the county. It is more than a hand hake; he said the work follows a written work agreement so that everybody understands what and when things need to get done. For example, he said, “We are very fortunate that the county has a paver. They can do a lot of my work and cost the town nothing. That’s a big savings when you talk about $2,500 a day for crew and a paver to come in.”

Some services even go out of the area like the John Deere 200 shovel he loaned to towns hit with flash flooding in the Southern Tier.

“Better than half of the current crew will turn over on my watch, so this is a critical time for highway and parks operations,” said Ed. “The new facility and salt barn is one huge accomplishment for all of us here. The new guys have a lot to learn. I firmly believe we will all leave the town in better shape than it was when we signed on.

“Farmington is evolving very quickly as a town from being primarily agricultural to a well established bedroom community. The highway and parks department has to keep up to that fast pace and even anticipate future needs.

“These are exciting times in Farmington. I’m proud to be part of it.”

About the Town

of Farmington

It’s not unusual for early settlers to name their towns after the places they came from. Farmington, part of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase, was named for Farmington, Conn. The town and county were formed in 1789. Many of the first pioneers were Quakers from the Berkshire area in Massachusetts.

The name kept on giving. In 1824, a father and two sons from Farmington, N.Y., went west with some other Quakers and founded Farmington, Mich.

By the late 1700s industry here was fully developed to meet the pioneers’ needs. They had a grist mill, a saw mill, a blacksmith, a cabinet maker, an ashery, a tannery, a distillery, a cloth and carding mill, and many other businesses.

In the 1800s when transportation was limited to using horses, the town consisted of many small hamlets, just the names of which endure today. There was Blacksmith Corners, Brownsville, Farmbrook, Farmington, Hathaway Corners, Ingleside Corner, Mertensia, New Salem, and Pumpkin Hook. The last one was named for an incident where hooligans “hooked” a wagon load full of pumpkins, which must have been a big deal in its day. The settlement of the town of Farmington was completed about 1820.

The Quaker faith is embedded in the soil here. The once extensive Society of Friends as they are known, were earnest, honest, faithful, and patient Christians whose everyday walk in life was in full accord and keeping with their beliefs and teachings, including equality between men and women. But all religions experience differences of opinions, even the gentle Quakers, also called Friends. For the Friends in Farmington in 1828 it must have been shocking when Elias Hicks, an eloquent messenger from God caused many people to secede from the core group and become known as “Hicksites.”

Those who remained faithful to the original doctrine became known as “Orthodox Friends.”

Concerns for their children’s education and their crops inspired the Friends to create the Manual Labor School in 1838 in which the youth in town could gain an education and pay for it in return with manual labor on the lands associated with the institution.

It may be ironic that a town so heavily steeped in the history of a spiritual path is now the home to a burgeoning Racino, unless you believe in praying to God for good luck. In its commercial and transportation heyday the town was serviced by the New York Central and Lehigh Valley Railroads and the Rochester and Eastern Rapid Railway, which had stops in the vanished hamlets now simply marked by signs.

Times have changed here. Where the Friends once encouraged children to work to pay for their education in the Friend’s school, about 150 years later, taxes levied on homes and money from the people pushing their buttons on the slot machines and handicapping the horses at the racetrack help build the schools, tend to the roads, and maintain and develop the parks.

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