Highway Superintendent Larry LaMora and the Town of Rotterdam

Mary Yamin-Garone

Dedicated. Determined. Dependable — that’s Larry LaMora, a man destined to be highway superintendent for the town of Rotterdam.

Born in Plattsburgh, N.Y., Larry and his family moved to Rotterdam when he was one.

“I was raised by my mother and step-father,” he said. “We lived one mile from the highway department.”

A graduate of Schalmont High School, Larry was in the vocational services program as a mechanic during his junior and senior years. “I wasn’t much of a college person. I was more of a hands-on-type guy. I could dig a ditch, fix a pipe, do the most common sense things that are required on the job. Before I graduated, my stepfather bought a service station on Campbell Road in Rotterdam. I was 16 and just got my driver’s license. I’d drive there and work on cars after school. Some of the high school teachers would bring their vehicles in to be inspected or have new brakes put on.”

Before entering vocational school, Larry was already experienced in automotive repair.

“My stepfather worked on heavy equipment. He also was in the trucking and excavating business. I learned how to paint vehicles and equipment. I was 12 years old running a small Cat front-end loader around our property. In vocational school, the teachers always made me a class leader. I’d watch over the other kids repairing stuff. The teacher was surprised at how much knowledge I had.”

School wasn’t always easy for Larry. “I was pretty much a “skate through” type of kid. Even if it were Cs and Ds, I got through it. When I got to 12th grade, I buckled down. I went to all my classes. I was getting 90s. The teachers were impressed. There was an awards ceremony at the end of the year. Senior skip day was the same day. My friends and I were going to skip and go to the park. I remember my mother asked me to go to the assembly instead. I told her I didn’t want to, but she said my guidance counselor needed to talk to me about something. It would only take a few minutes.

“So I went, and all of a sudden, I was called up for the greatest achievement award. I looked out in the crowd and saw one person,” he said, choking back tears. “My mother. Every time I see her I think back on it. She knew what was going on. She knew about senior skip day. That made me feel good. I saw her there … she was proud of me.”

After vocational school, Larry went to work for LBJ Auto.

“It was me, my brother and stepbrother. My father bought the service station for us. I was there about five years. My interests were growing. I got married. I moved on to heavy equipment and some excavating.”

In 1985, he joined Standard Stone Construction, where he worked on heavy equipment and machinery and did road infrastructure.

“The owner was a development builder. He did everything from taking trees down to putting in his own water mains. He also had his own water pump facility in Saratoga. I helped maintain all the company’s equipment. I’d make sure the vehicles were ready for winter and then during the winter, I’d get all the equipment and foreman’s trucks repaired or rebuilt so we’d be ready for summer.”

Larry stayed with Standard Stone for about five years before venturing out on his own.

“I worked on heavy equipment and did some excavating. I still own some excavating equipment. My equipment repair shop is still going in Rotterdam. It’s been 20-plus years. We’re light on excavating now. It’s mostly repairing bulldozers, backhoes and trucks. We do a lot of work for the general builders and masons in the area.”

So what brought Larry to the highway department?

“There were times during a winter storm when my guys had to go home and the roads weren’t plowed. I thought, ‘How come this road isn’t plowed?’ I was in the service truck and called them up. I told them they better leave early. I’m in the four-wheel drive service truck and was having a heck of a time getting down the streets. By the time I got to my business, the guys were snowed in. I came by the highway department around mid-afternoon and all the snow and salt trucks were parked around the building with lights flashing and everyone’s inside. I was furious. I wanted to go inside and ask what everybody was doing.

“That was one of the issues. Living so close here I knew a few people in the highway department and things were brought to my attention. Things that weren’t really right. Why doesn’t somebody do something? Nobody wanted to step up to the plate. The gentleman who was running for town supervisor called me and said, ‘Larry, why don’t you run for highway superintendent?’ Why not? I wish I had run 10 years ago. It wouldn’t be the disaster it is now that I’m trying to repair.”

Larry first ran in 2011 but “didn’t get that many votes. It was an unknown ticket, not really Republican or Democrat. The second time I was backed by the Republican and Conservative Parties. Now with major backings and a small line, I got enough votes. It was more than five friends voting. People were interested and wanted me to run. I never liked the political part of it — kissing babies, going door-to-door. I did what needed to be done to get the win. The second time running I wanted it to be close. Even if I got beat by a couple hundred votes, I’d be happy. I won with just over 100 votes.”

Changing the way the highway department operated was Larry’s top priority.

“My predecessor wasn’t always around. Residents would call here looking for him and he wouldn’t return their calls. That was the first thing I did. I’d come in here on a Saturday morning and check the answering machine. Once I called a resident who had an issue at 8 a.m. I thought she was upset with me the way she was talking. I said, ‘Ma’am, I’m sorry. Is it too early to call you?’ She replied, ‘Not at all. I just can’t believe I got a call back.’ I told her there was a new chief in the house and if you call here, you’re going to get a response. I’ll make sure of that.”

Larry has one daughter, Christina, and a four-year-old grandson, Lorenzo. “They swore me into office for my second term.”

Larry’s quick to admit he hasn’t had free time in a long time. He likes to spend what little time he has for himself fishing on his boat.

“I also have an antique car collection. I enjoy riding my motorcycle in the country and I like going to equipment auctions. Any kind of auctions, really. They’re exciting.”

When it comes time to pass the baton, how would Larry like to be remembered?

“For trying to get things done and standing up for the needs of the employees and residents. I believe it’s just as important to stand up for the people who work here as it is to stand up for the residents.”

Larry chuckles when asked about retirement. “I honestly don’t see me ever retiring. I’ve been active all my life doing something and I think I’ll always be active.”

All in a Day’s Work

The highway department works out of one building that was built in the 1950s. It houses Larry’s and his secretary’s offices and the garage itself.

“It’s a big building, but it’s outdated. In the night, during the winter when we know it’s going to snow, we can put 12 plow trucks and a front-end loader inside. That’s stuffing them in there. There aren’t actual bays. Then, during the day, we pull out half the equipment so we have room to work inside.”

As for the department’s salt shed, well, they don’t have one.

“I’m looking for one. We’re not in compliance with the Department of Environmental Conservation [DEC]. Our salt/sand pile is totally exposed. I don’t know where [the town] gets their ideas from. I also don’t know how we’re getting away with it. We should be fined. I want to call DEC and tell them to come over and fine me. It should have been done years ago. Even little towns have salt sheds.”

As superintendent, it is Larry’s job to maintain the town’s 220-plus lane miles of road, all of which are paved. That translates into 12 plowing routes that take about three and one-half hours to complete, depending on the storm.

Larry depends on his crew of 27 full-time and six part time employees to serve the town’s 28,000 residents.

“I don’t have a foreman. I have two senior crew leaders, Frank Hernandez and Ed Dixon.”

The rest of his crew includes: HEOs Carl Schellenger, Tod Nadler, Joe Reynolds, Ed Dixon and Joe Disco; MEOs Conrad Johnson, Steve Voller, Paul Peniston and Steve Skoda; senior laborers Jeff Gemmett, Jonathan Ginter, Gary Costanzo, Alan Bursor, Mark Fretto, Nick Raucci, Josh Leary, John Longo, Tom Zink, Lou Sangovani, Luke Quay and Chris Mclea; mechanics Rick Phillips, Joe Marsello and Tim DeCocco; and water and sewer employees Jerry Guidarelli, Rick Kaiser, Rick Rorick and Matt Lupi.

“I’m getting ready to post a few more jobs to move some of the laborers up to MEOs and the MEOs to HMOs,” he said.

Larry recalls the first time he met his crew.

“I hadn’t even started the job yet. I got my first emergency call before I even walked through the door. I called guys I’d never met before to come in and plow the roads. Almost a week went by. We’re working late nights. We had a water main and sewer truck line break. Over a week goes by and I never got a chance to introduce myself. I was thankful that happened because I saw what they could do and what they were doing. It changed the speech I was going to give. Then I went out and introduced myself. I said, ‘I see what has to be done around here. I look at this building. I drove by it for several years now. We need a new one. You guys need a better facility. We need to upgrade our equipment. I see you out there doing what you’re doing with what you have. When we work here, we work together. I’m not any better than you. Nobody is. We work together. Anything I ask you to do, I’m going to do. That’s how it’s going to go. Don’t bring up what happened in the past. We’re starting with a clean slate.’

That’s when morale changed.

“There’s less arguing and fighting,” he said. “Before, they were directed like cattle. Some of the guys would be put on the same job the entire summer. Doing the same thing over and over or running the same machine. If that guy went out sick for a week, no one else knew how to run the machine. If one guy knows how to run the front-end loader, I want him to know how to run the backhoe, too. Move the guys around a litle bit. Give ‘em a change of pace. Why does the same guy have to run the same machine every day, day in and day out? No wonder he hates his job.”

Under Larry’s watchful eye, the town of Rotterdam’s highway department functions on a total operating budget of $4,350,000 that includes salaries and benefits for employees and an annual CHIPS allocation of $230,000.

But it never seems to be enough.

“There’s always money problems. Our budget never goes up. If anything, it’s decreased quite a bit. Before I got here, they dwindled down our money for paving. Back in 2008, the budget for highway resurfacing was $322,000 with the CHIPS money. In 2009, they appropriated $200,000, but they spent $456,000 plus CHIPS. In 2010, it went down to $110,000. It was $100,000 in 2011 and then it gets even better. In 2012, we had $75,000 to pave 400-plus roads; then in 2013, it was zero.

“When I took office in 2014 it was zero. In 2015, I asked for $400,000 thinking if I asked for $400,000, I might get $200,00. Do you know what the board gave me? Zero. Whatever figures I put down … you might as well forget it. We’re getting nothing. For 2016, I argued for $500,000 to catch up on paving thinking maybe they’ll give me $250,00. Zero again.”

The same goes for equipment. “I’m fighting on that one, too. I’m arguing with the board to get some bonding for equipment. I’m asking for $1 million. I know it sounds like a lot of money, but $1.8 million is what should have been spent here in the last three years, but it wasn’t.”

To help get the job done, the department uses a fleet of mostly antiquated equipment that includes:

• Dump truck crew cab (2009)

• Bobcat road grinder (2004)

• Packers (1996, 2002, 2003, 2005)

• Road sweepers (2004, 2007)

• Plow truck and sanders (1989, 1993, 1995, 1996, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2014)

• Dump truck with air compressor (1993)

• Generator

• Trailer vac

• 6-inch pump

• Equipment trailers (1988, 1994, 2005)

• Front-end loaders (2008, 2012)

• Septic pump truck (1999)

• Backhoe loaders (455 Ford, 555 Ford, B9513 New Holland)

• Rubber-tire excavator

• Vac/Jet truck (1998)

• Sewer jet truck (2002)

• Stump grinder (2008)

• Trailer 14,000#, 7,000#, 3,300# (2004, 2005)

• Snow blowers (1979, 1994, 2003)

• Trench box (2003)

• Brush grapple trucks (1996, 2009)

• Gain body truck (1996 Ford F800)

• Tandem dump trucks (2009)

Despite of the lack of money, Larry has made great strides in improving how the highway department does its job.

“We recently developed a road management plan. Now I have a grading sheet, 1-5, with one being the worst. I want to prioritize our roads. I want to know high-low volume of traffic, graded low, medium and high. There’s nothing like that. No spreadsheet that says when a road was last paved, what its condition is. We went out and graded over 400 streets. Do the catch basins need repair? Yes or no. What about the potholes? Do we need to cut tree limbs back? Now we can prioritize. If it’s a #1 street with high traffic volume it has to be addressed for paving much quicker. If it’s a #1 street that’s really bad but it’s a dead end street with only two houses on it, we can let it ride a little longer.

“A lot of residents ask about paving. I explain to them how there’s no money in the budget to resurface the roads. I ask them to please go to the town board meeting. They’re frustrated. I am, too. What frustrates me more is I go to every meeting and no one shows up. There’s a bunch of empty chairs.”

The biggest change in the department is Larry himself.

“It’s leading by example. With me doing that, I see more of the men here doing it. They respect that. I’m right there when they need something on the job or off. When the hole or trench is dug and they’re trying to put a collar on the 20-inch pipe, I’ll go down that ladder and give them a hand. No screaming or yelling. That’s not going to help them. Working alongside them will.”

About the Town of Rotterdam

Rotterdam is a town in Schenectady County, N.Y. It was founded by Dutch settlers, who named it after the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, where many immigrants last touched European grounds.

Situated near the eastern end of New York State’s Heritage Corridor at what is known as the “Gateway to the West,” the town of Rotterdam is closely linked with the early development of Schenectady. At that time the present town of Rotterdam served as the outlying farmlands and wood lots for the settlers. With few exceptions, these settlers made their homes in the stockade in Schenectady but went to their farmlands during the daytime.

The lands now known as Rotterdam became Schenectady’s third ward when that city was incorporated in 1798. Rotterdam retained that status when the county of Schenectady was chartered in 1809. During this period, a council of aldermen and assistants from each of the four wards governed the city of Schenectady. In May 1819, the city council recommended that the third and fourth wards be separated out as towns, and on December 31, a petition to the state legislature was drafted. The legislation was passed on April 14, 1820, the final day of the legislative session, creating the town of Rotterdam.

The Dellemont-Wemple Farm was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and the Enlarged Double Lock No. 23, Old Erie Canal in 2008.

The Mabee House, at the Mabee Farm Historic Site, the oldest surviving house in the Mohawk Valley, was added to the National Register of Historic Places May 22, 1978. It is a property of the Schenectady County Historical Society, being donated by a last descendant in his particular line, Mr. George Eugene Franchere, on January 29, 1993, the 287th anniversary of the original deed. It is currently being operated as a living history museum, conducts school programs, and events for the public.

As of the census of 2000, there were 28,316 people, 11,544 households, and 8,092 families residing in the town. The population density was 787.0 people per square mile. There were 11,990 housing units at an average density of 333.3 per square mile. The population was 29,094 at the 2010 census.

(History courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotterdam_(town),_New_York)

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