Gregory Emerson is an unusual man with the unusual dual responsibilities of superintendent of Public Works and Village administrator. It is unheard of that the same person would fill these positions, and because of his dual roles, Emerson also is responsible for overseeing the fire department, ambulance corps, code enforcement and Village planning and zoning.
Emerson, who has lived in Honeoye Falls for 30 years, grew up in Rochester. His 21 years as a general contractor in the homebuilding trade has provided him with the necessary skills for his present positions. As general contractor, he learned all aspects of construction, people management, purchasing and the importance of teamwork on a project.
In 1996, Emerson was appointed to his current positions. He manages five full-time staff members and maintains a close relationship with the mayor and Village board. This enables him to stay focused and to know that he is carrying out the vision of both.
Emerson’s work hours are Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. but there are times when longer days are a necessity.
“Every week starts with a meeting with the mayor. We have a very tight relationship,” Greg said. “Throughout the week, we communicate constantly either by telephone or e-mail and we also are in constant communication with the Village board.”
However, the most telling thing about Emerson can be found in a motto that hangs above his desk: “We Work Out of the Box.” The “We” means that he works with his staff as part of a team and together they tackle problems and are successful by seeking solutions from different perspectives.
Storm Sewer and Highway Systems
Emerson works with a total annual budget of $600,000. The sum of $400,000 is slated for sewer projects and $200,000 is slated for highway projects. In addition, he receives an annual CHIPS allocation of $12,000.
All highway and sewer facilities are in one location, on a 15-acre site at the wastewater treatment plant, which includes two offices, highway garage and a salt storage shed with a capacity to hold 150 tons of salt.
“Over the last couple years, the staff and myself have completely designed and built a new office for the DPW and a new salt shed. Our staff did all the labor,” said Greg.
However, the largest project currently under way in the Village is addressing the problem of very poor drainage. The Village's sewer system was built in 1938 and a half-inch of rain seriously taxes the sewer system.
“On January 8, 1998, we received three inches of rain in just a couple of hours. The sewer system could not handle the flow. The flow into the sewer was so heavy [that] we had to bypass the system. Our staff had to work continuously for four days pumping the system out,” said Greg.
To alleviate the drainage problem, there is a three- to five-year plan under way to improve the storm water sewer system and to work with homeowners to get unnecessary water out of the sewer system. Water - such as basement water - will be discharged into a new storm water system, which is being paid for with grant money.
As part of the three- to five-year plan, Emerson's staff is working a $70,000 project to install an 18-in. storm sewer line, which should relieve annual flooding in six homes. In addition, the DPW staff is installing a new sanitary sewer across Main Street. This project has a $50,000 price tag.
Although a lot of work is being done to update the Honeoye Falls sewer system, there is still more work to be done. To keep the work progressing, Emerson has applied for two more grants, one to install 6,000 ft. of new 12-in. storm sewer lines and to move and replace 92 catch basins.
The second grant is to install storm laterals to 101 homes to relieve structural damage, which occurs at these homes during flood conditions. In total, $355,000 worth of grants have been applied for. When the grants are approved, DPW employees will complete all projects.
Another aspect of Emerson and his team thinking outside the box, is that the Village DPW now receives free processed recycled glass from the county recycling center in Rochester. The glass is used in place on No. 1 and No. 2 stone as aggregate in its sewer projects, said Emerson.
A unique aspect of the Village is that it has 5.44 centerline mi. of county roads and 6.2 centerline mi. of state highway passing through it. To provide continuity of maintenance of the county roads and village streets — especially during the snow removal season — the Village is being paid by the county to maintain county roads.
“Often times we don't have the budget for a project so we have to source our responses to get the job done. Because of an attitude change, our residents have seen an improvement in services. Our snow removal is vastly improved,” said Greg.
“We now remove the snow from all residential sidewalks, 38 miles worth. All Village parking areas have all snow removed after each snow event. No snow is piled. All snow is removed from the area. Because of our agreement with the county, all streets in the Village receive equal attention to snow removal,” he said.
Emerson and his staff are constantly working to improve Honeoye Falls by the services they offer the residents.
Currently, they are maintaining 90 acres of parks within the Village. They also have the responsibility of maintaining the local cemetery. In addition, they have scheduled a weekly brush and a leaf pickup.
“Previously, our residents only had brush pickup available to them three times a year. Now it’s available every week. They no longer have to cut and bundle their sticks. If they bring it to the curb, we take it away. We now offer curbside leaf pickup. We also offer free mulch and compost to Village residents,” Greg explained.
“We go out of our way to support local businesses — anything that we can do within reason to keep a business happy in our community. Each spring, we hang 88 flowerpots from poles down Main Street. Our own staff made the poles,” he said. “Each year, we work closely with the Rotary Club and provide DPW employees for an annual tree planting around the Village.”
Up until several years ago, all sidewalk maintenance and repair work was contracted to an outside contractor. The Village DPW now does all of that work itself. Due to the cost savings, Emerson has been able to increase the amount of sidewalk replaced each year from 150 to 200 ft.
Another example of the unique way in which Emerson and his staff handled a problem had to deal with replacing a big ticket item - a boiler.
“A couple of years ago, our boiler in the wastewater treatment plant failed. It was March 1, and we really needed heat. It would have cost $175,000 to replace the boiler and we weren't even close on having the funding to do so,” Greg explained.
“Our staff got together, we thought ‘outside the box.’ We planned and re-planned and in the end we designed and installed a gas radiant heating system for a total cost of $18,500. Everyone pitched in, everyone contributed to the planning and as a team, we saved the Village approximately $150,000,” he said.
Because of his small staff, Emerson places a great deal of value in teamwork through cross training. This training enables an employee to handle the fundamental tasks of running the sewage and water plants, doing park cleanup, or operating a snowplow. The value of the cross training can be seen with the successes in the Village.
“With the added workload, we are in the process of gradually increasing our staff. We have come together as a team with our cross training for jobs both in the field, highway work and wastewater work. We understand that we are not separate departments … we have one team,” Greg said.
A Matter of Attitude
Emerson believes that a positive and can-do mentality goes a long way to achieve success.
“Over the years, we have worked to transform the attitude of the DPW. We have successfully moved on from the ‘We can’t do that’ frame of mind to the ‘What else can we do’ frame of mind. We have had to become very focused on finding the right equipment and the right tool to get these jobs done. We really want to provide quality service to the residents of Honeoye Falls,” he said.
“All employees of the village DPW have the ability and the authority to make decisions for themselves. We work together to explore issues and investigate ideas. My staff works with me and I work with them. As we develop ideas we spend just as much time studying the effects of those ideas before we proceed with the project. My staff is very open to change. Often to get jobs done, we have to think creatively or ‘outside the box.’ We even encourage our employees to interact directly with the Village board,” Greg said.
No matter how much planning and preparation is made, there are times when things go awry and Emerson and his crew had one particularly memorable day. He explains.
“September 11, 2001. We were doing a sewage replacement project. It was an eight-inch tile main directly across Route 66 or our Main Street. We were doing pipe bursting when the first plane hit [the Twin Towers in New York].
“We were well into the project and had about 100 feet to go. Our missile stopped at about 11:15 a.m. It was rammed and wedged into the side of a manhole. Half the flow of the Village sewer came through that pipe.
“Being aware of everything that was going on in New York City and Washington, and knowing the country was under attack, obviously, all of us wanted to be home with our families. Instead, we worked continuously until 9 a.m. on September 13. Throughout that time, we had to work to dislodge the missile and re-direct all the traffic through Main Street. Our staff changed a lot that day - we really became a family.”
This particular project also had an ominous effect on some of the residents of Honeoye Falls.
“Everyone was aware that air traffic was suspended. We were using equipment that made large bangs and booms throughout the night, scaring the local residents,” Greg said.
Emerson gives credit to his staff and for their team effort and the Village of Honeoye Falls appreciates their sacrifice and dedication.
“We have really been focused on improving the pride and self-respect of our Village employees. Each year we have a large annual staff picnic with all families invited and each year the Village gives us a Christmas party. This really shows us that the Village really appreciates the sacrifice and dedication we give to our jobs,” Greg concluded.
Honeoye Falls is a tiny village located on the upper falls of Honeoye Creek approximately 15 mi. southeast of Rochester.
A Seneca Indian village, Totiakton, had been founded in this area, and an explorer coming upon the village in the year 1677 gauged the population to be approximately 1,000. Long houses, typical of the Senecas, were located along the creek and artifacts found over the years have substantiated this claim.
The village, as it is known today, was founded in 1791 by Zebulon Norton, a native of Connecticut. He came to western New York and purchased 1,820 acres of land, at 12.5 cents per acre, on Honeoye Creek. He built a grist mill on the site of the Town of Mendon office and a saw mill on the falls on the opposite side on the creek. Almost immediately a village flourished and was known as Norton’'s Mills, and by 1822, it had become a lively little hamlet with mills, stores, a school, a post office and churches..
The creek played a large part in the life of the inhabitants with its mills and factories along the banks. A bridge had been built in 1810 connecting both sides of the village, making for a larger and more closely-knit community. By this time the village was known as West Mendon. Similar to Rochester, this community built its factories and mills along the upper and lower falls of its water supply.
In March 1838, the village of West Mendon became incorporated and would, in the future be known as Honeoye Falls, a true Indian name.
Throughout the years, with careful planning, the village has grown and prospered. Today the community boasts an excellent school system with an enrollment of 1,924 young people, four churches, and efficient fire department with modern ambulance facilities, eleven light industrial plants, a variety of stores and businesses to serve the needs of the population, a fraternal order of the Masons, and service organizations, such as rotary and Lions Club.
The many old homes on the tree-lined streets are intermingled with new and modern ones just as the village government concerns itself with the problems of the young and the old in this friendly community with a population of 2,410.
The residents of Honeoye Falls have a lot to be proud of: it’s rich history, it’s oriental art gallery, the beauty of its majestic falls and the village itself, which in summertime is decorated with hanging flower pots that are hung and maintained by the DPW, the Brewery Restaurant that overlooks the falls, the microbrewery supply store that supplies brew ingredients to breweries across the country, and its Harry Allen Park, which hosts several special annual events, including the Festival On The Green that is held every Father’s Day weekend and includes arts, crafts and antiques.
Each June, the park also hosts the American Cancer Society Relay For Life, which is now in it’s third year and a project in which Greg Emerson and many others have been actively involved.
Another important part of the economics of the Village is the General Motors Research and Development Facility, which employs 300 people and is where research and development of General Motors’ electric and hydrogen powered cars is done. Each year General Motors give Greg Emerson 90 people for one day to tackle a specific project in the Village.
(Honeoye Fall’s information was provided by the village’s Web site, which can be found at www.honeoyefalls.org.) P STAFF