Superintendent of Highways Craig Useted and the Town of North Castle

Craig Useted is proof positive: hard work and perseverance pay off.

For him, the journey to becoming highway superintendent of the Town of North Castle was a slow and steady one that began in 1975, when Craig joined the department as a road maintainer.

“It was quite a bit different back then; just the way the town was in general. It was small, country-like with a lot of local people. The town has grown tremendously since then. Due to the school systems, this has become a desirable place to live.”

Craig attributed the town’s transformation to his predecessor, Jack Lombardi, who held the superintendent post for 44 years.

“He instilled a ‘taxpayer-oriented’ attitude. When a taxpayer would call — whether friend or foe — if it was a legitimate complaint/request he wanted it taken care of.”

Lombardi’s philosophy still holds true today.

“Regardless of what position you are in, your main goal is to be here to serve the people. That’s the line of work we chose to be in. You can never forget that. Sometimes that’s hard. You have to take a step back and remind yourself. There are some tough times. People are extremely demanding and they expect a high level of service but I expect that from myself, too.”

Reflecting on his start with the department, Craig recalled how close he came to choosing a different career path.

“That same year [1975], I took a civil service exam to become a garbage man in the Bronx. I passed the physical and written tests and received the results at the same time I interviewed for this position. I had to choose between working in the Bronx and making more money or working in the town I grew up in.”

The decision was easy and once made, Craig never looked back.

In 1978, he was promoted to motor equipment operator. That was followed by an upgrade to assistant road maintenance foreman in 1983.

“In that capacity I was making $12.17 an hour. How about that? As a foreman! Big bucks — it was to me. I thought, ‘I’m one of the bosses now. I get to tell these guys what to do.’ Well, along with that came more responsibility, which was a good thing. I was ready for the challenge.”

Craig served in that post until 1984, when he became road maintenance foreman. Then in 1993 — in what seemed to be a natural progression of his career — he took over the reins of the highway department.

“Even when I was a road maintainer I always looked to take the next step. I wanted to go, go, go … keep working. I was proud of what I was doing. Over the years I saw different opportunities and went for them. I enjoyed the leadership part of it. As you can see, I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I covered every step except mechanic.”

Craig proudly said that his best day on the job was “the day I took over the department. It was something I had wanted for a long time. I feel proud I was able to achieve that. I am right where I want to be.”

Now, 13 years later, he still exhibits that same enthusiasm.

“I enjoy my job. I like waking up in the morning and coming to work. Maybe not every single day … but I definitely enjoy my job.”

A life-long town resident, Craig and his wife of 18 years are raising their 12-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter in Armonk. In addition to family and work, he loves golf and auto racing.

A member of the Westchester/Putnam Counties Association of Town Superintendents of Highways, Craig served as vice president for three years; president for five; and has been chairman of its board of directors for the past two years.

Getting the Job Done

The Town of North Castle Highway Department is in charge of maintaining 184.56 mi. of town roads, all of which are paved. During the winter months the department is responsible for 55 state and 16 county roads. That translates into 24 plowing routes that take 2.5 hours to complete. Craig readily admitted that winter is his least favorite part of the job.

“When I was younger I didn’t mind the long winter hours. I’d get angry when it didn’t snow. Now I get angry when it does.”

He gets help keeping those roads safe for the town’s approximately 11,000 residents from his full-time crew. Key staff includes Jamie Norris, assistant; Robert Schupp, shop foreman; and Mike Giaccio, Tom MacInnes and Sal DiVitto, road foremen.

The highway department functions on a total operating budget of $4.139 million, which includes salaries and benefits for employees and an annual CHIPS allocation of $101,495.

The department currently sets up shop in a 12,000-sq.-ft. main garage that houses repair and storage and an 18-bay parking area for trucks and equipment. There also are an office/lunch room, two sheds and two storage facilities.

“Our two storage domes are 72 feet in diameter. One has four foot concrete walls — that is the older one, built in 1978 — and is used to store our 1,500 tons of salt. The other has eight foot concrete walls and stores 2,000 tons of salt/sand mixture.

“The facilities are extremely old and definitely need updating. One of our biggest upcoming projects is a new 3,500-square-foot facility and driveway. It will house every piece of equipment. There will be a wash bay so we can pull a truck inside after a snowstorm — even if it’s zero degrees — hose it down, clean it, get the salt off and then park it in a heated garage. It is so important to have that,” Craig said.

“Now, most of our equipment won’t fit in the garage. It’s only 10 feet high and some trucks are over that with the dump body and cab shield. As a result, a lot of our trucks, even the newer ones, are parked outside. We plug them in during the winter. That’s not the proper way to store them.

“We are currently in the planning stages and have been talking with architects to get some ideas. Hopefully, the facility will be completed within the next two to three years.”

To get the job done the highway department uses a myriad of equipment.

“A new vehicle is added every year. We are in the third year of our seven-year purchasing plan,” he explained.

“Since I’ve been superintendent we have made huge gains in the equipment area. That has been possible by making the right presentation to the [town] board. They are reasonable people if you are honest with them. Don’t say you need something when you don’t but if it is something you do need make sure that’s understood. Whether it incorporates taking pictures and showing them what their highway employees are driving…A picture is worth a thousand words and goes a long way.”

New additions this year will be two four-wheel drive plow trucks, two chippers and an asphalt paver. Over the next several years, Craig anticipates replacing the department’s 1997 John Deere loader, their 1995 Elgin Pelican sweeper and several small dump trucks.

When making those purchases he is reminded of the impact technology has made on equipment.

“Without a doubt vehicles are easier to operate. Last year we bought two 8,500 GMCs and it’s like driving a car. The front axles are set back. You can almost turn the truck around in a 24-foot road width without backing up. The turning radius is sharp,” he said.

“The controls are within the driver’s reach so they don’t have to lean over. That’s important. You want the truck to be set up with the employee in mind. He’s going to be spending a lot of time in that truck during the winter. You want it to be as comfortable as possible. Modern technology and electronics makes that easier to do.”

Maintaining the fleet is the job of Mechanics Marty Richardson, Fred Coughlin and Dan Caturano and Lead Foreman Robert Schupp.

“They also maintain the vehicles for the police and building departments, water and sewer and parks and recreation. Two of the guys have plow routes in the winter and they all [take turns] filling in when a crew member is out sick or on vacation,” Craig explained.

While there is no “dream” piece of equipment he longs for, Craig wouldn’t mind having a Vac-All catch basin cleaner.

“We rent one every year. This year we managed to clean every basin in town — all 1,440 of them,” he said.

“My guys do an excellent job. Some days they would clean 60 basins. That’s a very good day. Some may be small, only 24 by 24 and 4 foot deep, but you still have to go through the motions. You have to stop at the basin; set up the work zone; take the top off; clean it and put the top back on.”

But for Craig and his crew that’s all in a day’s work.

Those days also include:

• resurfacing at least 6 mi. of road annually, with the hope of extending that to 10 mi.;

• paving a minimum of 6 mi. of road each year;

• providing brush and bag pickup for town residents;

• installing guide rail;

• mowing and sweeping; and

• conducting yearly work zone safety training.

No job is without difficulties. In Craig’s case they are found in trying to keep everything running smoothly. He likens the task to a three-ring circus, “And I am the ring master. In the first ring is the town board; the residents are in the second ring; and the employees are in the third. I’m the piece in the middle that has to make those three things work together. Sometimes that gets difficult.”

That is quickly forgotten, however, when an employee or resident “thanks you for making their job easier or taking care of their complaint.”

One Homeowners Association took that one step further. A plaque publicly thanking Craig and several board members for a job well done was mounted on a rock and placed in the center of the town’s islands where the project was completed.

“That was a pretty proud moment,” he admitted. “My name is going to be there for many years.”

About the Town

North Castle’s name is derived from an Indian encampment located on the hill where the IBM Corporation World Headquarters stands today. The site was called “North Fort” and because early settlers felt it resembled a castle, it became “North Castle.”

The Indians of North Castle were the Siwanoys, who belonged to the Wappinger Confederacy and were part of the Algonkian-speaking group. Their place names and the names of the sachems (chiefs) remain there today: Sachem Wampus gave his name to Wampus Pond and stream; Sachem Mayano’s name lives on in the Mianus Gorge and River; from Sachem Cokenseko comes Kensico Reservoir and the lost village of Kensico; Cohamong became Coman, as in Coman Hill School; and variations of Armonck — the name the Indians called Byram River — undoubtedly gave us Armonk.

In 1701 England’s King William III gave his favorite courtiers the Middle Patent, now the eastern part of North Castle, and the West Patent, now the western section. People from Massachusetts and Connecticut settled the eastern portion — the earliest part — and Quakers from Rye and Long Island gathered around today’s Armonk.

The Town of North Castle comprises approximately 26 sq. mi. and is situated at the narrow waist of Westchester County, where the corner of the state of Connecticut extends west toward the Kensico Reservoir. The bulk of the town’s land area lies north of this corner but the town’s most densely populated part lies to the south. The Kensico Reservoir separates the two parts.

The town has been divided into three distinct geographic areas: North White Plains, Armonk and the Eastern District — the hamlet area in the Eastern District is referred to as Banksville. North White Plains is the town’s most urban portion. The seat of town government can be found in Armonk, while the Eastern District retains its low-density residential character.

A number of highways link the town with neighboring communities and other parts of the New York Metropolitan Region. Route 22 connects the town with White Plains and Bedford. Route 128 links Armonk with Mount Kisco and Bedford-Banksville Road joins Bedford and Greenwich. King Street (Route 120) provides a connection to Port Chester, Rye Brook and Chappaqua. Interstate 684 is a major regional north-south route, which connects to other expressways and parkways, providing access to all parts of the New York region and beyond. The Bronx River and Merritt Parkways also serve the town, although the latter does not pass through it.

In 2000, the U.S. Census reported the town’s total population was 10,849. This represented an increase of 7.8 percent — or 788 people — since 1990. Also, according to the Census, there were a total of 3,522 dwelling units in North Castle in 1990, which increased to 3,706 in 2000. The latter number consisted of 3,260 single-family detached homes; 119 single-family attached homes; 205 units in 2-unit structures; and 122 units in multi-family structures — defined as three or more units per building. More than one-half of those are in the three- to four-unit per building category and, therefore, likely include some buildings with three or four attached townhouses.

The average population per dwelling unit was 2.93 persons as of 2000. This represented a decline from the 3 person average that was estimated to exist at the time the 1996 Town Plan Update was prepared. It is a reflection of the “aging in place” of many households.

Information obtained from the town’s building department estimates 282 new dwelling units have been constructed in North Castle since the 2000 Census, offset by approximately 30 to 35 teardowns. This yields approximately 250 homes and results in a projected current total of 3,956 dwelling units.

The substantial difference between the number of new lots created and the new homes that were constructed is explained, in large part, by the earlier subdivision approval of the Whippoorwill Hills and Whippoorwill Ridge developments. Based on the nature of the new units (i.e., a combination of one- and two-family and townhouse dwellings), it is estimated that North Castle’s current population has grown to approximately 11,500 people. This represents an increase of approximately 650 people living in the town during the past five years, almost as much as the increase during the entire decade of 1990-2000. P

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