Mike Kastler is a man on the move. Whether struggling to keep the town's budget in the black, providing the best services for the residents or camping in his spare time, Mike is always doing something.
And for the past 12 years, that something has been serving as the highway superintendent of the town of Sandy Creek.
“I've lived here my whole life,” he said. “I graduated with a high school diploma in 1984 then did two years of welding at vocational school. After that, I dabbled in construction for several years. Eventually, I ended up at International Wire. I worked there for 20 years before I got the superintendent's job in 2007. My predecessor had just announced that he was going to retire. Nobody in the barn wanted the job, so I threw my hat in the ring. I've always been active in the community. I've been in the fire department for over 30 years — past chief, present chief. I was involved in Little League, VFW… so everybody knew me.
“Before the elections, though, he decided to run for another term, so I had to run against him. We agreed we would only run under the Republican party. Whoever won the primary would be declared the winner. I beat him in the primary.”
Winning the election was bittersweet.
“He had a hobby of flying ultralight planes,” Mike said of his predecessor. “Unfortunately, he died in one in October of 2007. The board contacted me and asked if I could start before January 1st. I started after the general election in November. It started as a two-year term. Now it's four. I'm up for reelection in 2022.
“We were good friends. Being the fire chief, I worked closely with him over the years. There was never any animosity between us. When he was going to retire, he told me I'd be a good fit for the job. He supported me right up until he looked at his retirement and saw he needed a few more years to pad his pension.
“I don't know if they ever determined the cause [of the crash]. He was the only one in the plane. It was one of those single-seater ultralight planes with like a weed wacker motor on it. All the highway guys went with my fire department. We had to search the woods for the plane because nobody knew where it went down.”
So, what was the real story behind wanting to become highway superintendent?
“I'd been in the fire department for a long time,” Mike said. “I was sick and tired of having to chase after accidents because the roads weren't being plowed well enough or often enough. We were getting called out in the middle of the night every time a tree fell because the highway superintendent wouldn't bring his guys in to clear the roads. I felt as a volunteer fireman having to go to accidents and trees blocking the roadways, there needed to be a better relationship with the highway superintendent and the two fire departments that serve the town. I met with the departments and told them I wanted to make the roads safer. and assist during wind storms with cleanup and not rely on volunteers to do the highway department's job.
“These guys are volunteers. They don't draw a paycheck. There's no reason why they should be out all hours of the night cutting a tree when the highway department can show up with a loader, push it off the road and clean it up the next day. I want to make things safer for the community and the volunteers. On the selfish side, I was working nights at the factory and driving back and forth. I wanted to be closer to home, so I could spend time with my kids.”
Mike has two daughters. Cassandra, 32, is married to James Bremm, who is a seasonal worker for the department and she works for a payroll company. They have three children: Wyatt, 9; Elliott, 6; and Charlotte, 1. Mike's daughter Melissa, 29, works for a trucking company as an office executive.
Mike is past president of the Oswego County Association of Town Highway Superintendents, the Town Highway Superintendents Association, the State Highway Superintendents Association and a member of the NYS Rural Water Association.
In his “free” time, Mike loves spending his summers in his camper.
“I'm a seasonal camper, so I park it in a campground here in town. I live out of it from April to November. I also enjoy hunting and fishing. I don't travel at this juncture in my life. That's my retirement plan. I'll go anywhere. I haven't been too far from home. I've only visited four states in my life. I have a lot of ground to cover. My plan is to go in my camper. Maybe if I find a place where I want to settle down for the winter, I'll do that and come back to New York for the summers where my grandchildren are.”
How much longer would Mike like to stay on the job?
“As long as I'm healthy, I'll stay here until I'm in my 60s.”
All in a Day's Work
When it comes to facilities, Mike has one main highway barn that was built in the 1950s.
“It's small, about 150 x 40 and there are six truck bays. I have one large cold storage barn that also was built in the 1950s. My office is in the break room because there never was a separate office built in the facility back then. It was the only room that wasn't used for storage. It has a folding table for a break table. My desk for the office.
“Our salt shed is a little newer than the barn. It was built in the early 1990s. It holds about 200 tons of salt and 200 tons of mixed material. We still run a salt and sand mixture. I put up about 600 loads of sand — or 1,200 tons — every winter. I use anywhere between 700 to 1,000 tons of salt to mix with it.
“We're starting to put some money in a building reserve. There's some talk about expansion or possibly new construction. It's a five-year goal. We started putting money in the reserve several years ago. You must be creative. I've been doing budgets for a long time with the fire department. I learned years ago that when budget season comes, you go in and ask for 30 percent to 40 percent more and they give you 20 percent. You walk out with a smile on your face because you got 20 percent more than you needed.”
Contrary to most other highway departments, Mike's board is “good about getting me what I need. I just have to prove that I have a plan for how to pay for it. As long as I submit that plan and it won't raise taxes, they're usually 100 percent behind me.”
Mike also works well with the neighboring towns.
“Over the last five years, we bought a drivable broom with four other townships. We each put in $10,000. An inter-municipal agreement was drawn up that we're the only ones that can use it and we share it. We did the same thing with a roller. It doesn't make sense for me to buy a $30,000 broom that I'm only going to put $100 a year into it. That's how we're doing it up here to save money. We're sharing more equipment purchases that we all can use. During the summer, when we're all doing our road work, we work together anyway. It's [equipment] always on the job site, whether it's in Sandy Creek, Red Field or Orwell. The highway calls it the circus because come June, when we start doing the road work, there's five townships that work together until everyone's town is done. Then we move on to something else.”
As superintendent, it's Mike's job to maintain the town's 46.5 square lane miles of road; two miles of which are gravel and the rest are paved, mix paved of CHIP sealed. All of that translates into four plowing routes that take about four hours to complete.
“We also have 20 miles we contract for the winter for the county for snow removal,” he said.
Mike depends on his crew of six full-time employees to serve the town's 3,817 residents. His staff includes deputy superintendent Michael Haverlock, Tim Crast, Edward Rotach, Mike Boland, Wade Brown and MP Haverlock, all of whom are machine equipment operators/mechanics. The department also employs water operator Eric Pappa and four part-time workers for the winter season.
“I'd like to see my guys get some recognition. I'm the highway superintendent, but they're the guys with the boots to the ground. They do a fantastic job. We work well as a team. If not for that comradery, we wouldn't get nearly as many projects done in the short window we have. We have six months of winter.”
Under Mike's watchful eye, the town of Sandy Creek's highway department functions on a total operating budget of $613,000 that includes salaries and benefits for employees and an annual CHIPS allocation of $130,000. The town also receives $20,000 to $25,000 from PAVE-NY and between $12,000 to $14,000 in Winter Recovery.
To help get the job done, the department uses a modest fleet of equipment that includes:
• 2018 Volvo 6x4 with plows and dump
• 2018 Mack 6x2 with plows and dump
• 2012 Mack 6x4 with plows and dump
• 2010 Mack 6x4 with plows and Munibody
• 2008 International 6x2 sander and plow truck
• 2005 International 6x2 plows and dump
• 1991 International 6x2 dump
• 2014 John Deere loader
• 2001 Komatsu grader
• 2001 Daewoo wheeled excavator
• 2016 New Holland tractor with flail and arm mowers
• 2012 New Holland tractor with sickle mower
• 2000 Ingersoll Rand dirt rider
• Bandit chipper
• 8-ton equipment trailer
The town purchased a double-drum roller and Broce broom with four neighboring towns to help save money. It also is getting ready to order a new plow/dump truck for the 2019 winter.
Mike is proud to say, “We own all our equipment and currently have a debt of $40,000 owed on the 2018 Mack. Our future needs include replacing our wheeled excavator. It's one of the biggest and most expensive pieces of equipment. Price is near $250,000. My dream would be to buy a paver. I would purchase that with my four neighboring townships. We'd buy a used one that would be between $150,000 and $160,000.
“All our paving is contracted out. The county highway works with us, but we have to pay them or we put it out to a private contractor. If we bought a paver, we'd save money by putting down more blacktop. We wouldn't be paying for a paver to be dropped here and not bringing in a five-man crew to run it. We'd probably buy one that someone's leased for a few years.”
Now, 12 years into the job, what has disappointed Mike the most?
“When I took over, the town board was starting to do equipment replacement. It was in the infant stage. We had one 2008 truck that was new when I took over. Everything else was getting antiquated — two 1995s that were frontline trucks at the time. We got on an aggressive equipment replacement program. One of my goals was to keep the equipment in good shape. I told the board that we needed to put more money in the equipment reserve. I've been putting $60,000 in my equipment reserve for the last 10 or 11 years. Essentially, every three years we almost have enough money there to think about replacing a truck. I try not to run the trucks more than 10 years. We try and do a 10-year replacement on the mainline equipment. Right now, one truck has a $40,000 payment that will be made in September. Then, I'll have zero debt in my barn. And we just ordered a new truck that will be delivered in November. I had to prove to my board that … they were trying to keep stuff for 15 years. I had to prove to them that at 15 years you're lucky to get 30 cents on the dollar for the equipment when you sold it. At 10 years, you could get 60 or 70 cents on the dollar.”
Mike admitted, however, he isn't averse to purchasing a used piece of equipment.
“You have to be careful. It's like buying a car someone leased for two years. If they took good care of it, you get a good buy. If they didn't take care of it, you didn't do so well.”
Looking to the future, Mike sees a new salt shed and highway garage.
“If we expand on the barn, I'll have to use the salt shed for two more truck bays and build a new shed. It's the lesser of the two evils. It's cheaper than building a new barn. My big goal is to see a new highway facility before I retire. We have enough space where we are. We have a fairly large area. I could put the salt shed not far from where it is now and then turn the existing salt shed into two truck bays so I have more room. My barn is so tight that we have to open and close overhead doors to get from one end to the other when the plows are on the truck.
“The odds of that coming to fruition are good. I've put a plan together where we can do it over time so there wouldn't be a big increase on the residents' taxes. My goal would be to start with a large pole barn. Something where we could help do the site work and offset the cost with the highway employees doing a lot of the work. Once the building is up, my guys could do the insulating and some of the interior stuff. We wouldn't need to have contractors doing all the work. If it took us five or six years to complete the building, it's better than borrowing $1.5 million on a 30-year bond. It's feasible. They're starting to put additional money in our building reserve every year so we're getting up around $100,000. That will probably get eaten up with engineering costs. Hoping down the road some grants will come along that we qualify for that would help.”
What has pleased him the most about the job?
“Having the satisfaction that you're serving your community, going out there every day and trying to provide the best services you can for the tax dollars the residents pay. I remind my guys all the time that the taxpayers pay our wages. We owe it to the taxpayers to spend it in the best way possible and provide the best services we can for the community.”
When it's time to hang up his hat, how would Mike like to be remembered? “I'd like the community to recognize that things were a little better than when I started. Whether that be next year or 20 or 25 years. My goal is to leave the town a little bit than I found it.”
About the Town of Sandy Creek
The first settlers came to what is today the town of Sandy Creek in 1803. By March 1825, the town was incorporated and from that time on interested people began to document and save records of its history. After a series of devastating fires, the Lacona and Sandy Creek village fire departments were formed. The town's first historian was Nanette Hamer who was appointed in the 1920s, probably before 1925 since that was the first documented artifact listed in the history collection.
About 1927, the original copy of the 1845 census was found in a home and from that the names were taken and put into the newspaper asking for information on those families. The series was called “Sketches.” Much of the genealogy the town has today began with this Sketches newspaper article. Each historian since has put their efforts toward a different area of historic preservation.
In 1835, Colonel Thomas Meacham (1795-1847), on his farm on this site, created a 1,400-lb., 11-ft.-round cheese as a gift to President Andrew Jackson. An immense cheese-hoop and press were constructed and the milk from 150 cows was turned into curd. For five successive days, it was piled into the great hoop. It was then conveyed by boat via Oswego, Syracuse, Erie Canal, Albany, New York City and reached Washington in time for George Washington's birthday, February 22, 1836, when all the people of Washington were invited to “eat cheese.”
The Lacona Depot was the hub of village activity for more than a century. The Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg (RWO) Rail line was completed through East Sandy Creek (Lacona) in the spring of 1851. The depot opened in November 1872.
In 1891, the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad purchased the RWO and replaced the original depot. One of the factors that materially contributed to the prosperity of the town was the entrance of the RWO Rail line through Lacona Village.
With better facilities in transportation, new enterprises were encouraged and industries were introduced. The area's two largest industries, Blount Lumber Company and Corse Press, utilized the train station for their products as did local farmers and both post offices.
Salisbury House served as a temporary home for many of the towns' early settlers and the first town meetings were held there in 1825. This temperance house was the outgrowth of the inn “part frame, part log” kept by James Hinman as early as 1812, when there were only two or three frame houses in what is now Sandy Creek Village. By 1820, it is known that Nathan Salisbury had already established his inn on this site. It burned in 1884.
A tannery was one of the oldest industrial sites in the village (1826) and later became the site of the Sandy Creek Wood Manufacturing Company. The precursor to today's paper plates were made there and furnished employment to a large number of men. It was located behind the Salisbury House.
In 2003, the town held a yearlong celebration to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the first settlers coming to what is today the town of Sandy Creek — every month, the town had a different event or speaker.
On May 31, 2008, the town remembered and dedicated the burial place of two Revolutionary Soldiers, Stephen Lindsey and Jonathan Thrasher at Pioneer/Goodenough District Cemetery on Henderson Road.
The Continental Arms Collectors Association's Revolutionary War Interpretive Unit, headed by George Clark, reflects a company from the 1st NY Regiment, Continental Army circa 1782. They use 1779 Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States and they offer a firsthand glimpse of the nation's colorful military history.
The Continental Arms Collectors Association Inc. was founded in 1982 as a Not-for-Profit educational organization. Their mission: “to enhance public knowledge on the significance of firearms in American History.” The Revolutionary War Interpretive Unit was introduced in 1992 to further educate the public about daily life in the Continental Army. Extensive research culminated in the selection of accurate reproduction weapons, accoutrements, equipment, headgear, footwear, and clothing in use by the unit. The high standard for the group's accurate performance of military drills and ceremonies, in use by the Continental Army during the latter part of the War of Independence, is a result of the intense training the unit is committed to.
(History courtesy of http://sandycreeknyhistory.com/