George J. Mottarella may feel a little like the City of Rye’s ping-pong ball, bouncing back and forth between his responsibilities as its director of public works and city engineer. But George doesn’t mind at all; in fact he relishes being pulled in different directions.
“I love the activity level of the job; it’s never boring because there’s always something new popping up,” George said. “I could be up on top of a roof one day and sitting down trying to analyze a sewer problem the next day. It’s from one extreme to the other. And the days go by like a flash. I love this kind of work; I’ve been at it now for 34 years.”
George has been employed with the City of Rye for just over 21 years, first as its city engineer and then, in 1989, as its director of public works when Rye’s superintendent of highways retired. Prior to that he worked with nearby New Rochelle for 13 years as that city’s Engineering Assistant and Superintendent of Highways.
On most days, George starts out at public works and then goes to City Hall to tackle his responsibilities as city engineer. “I bounce back and forth between the offices a lot of times during the day. Some days it’s all public works, some days it’s all city engineering,” he said.
Rye’s Department of Public Works
The City of Rye’s public works department consists essentially of four general divisions, each with its own foreman:
• General Foreman/Sanitation Foreman — Peter Anfuso;
• Road Maintenance — John Yusi;
• Parks and Land Maintenance/Sanitation — Scott Fontecchio; and
• Repair Garage — Jeff Simpson.
The Road Maintenance Department is responsible for 57 lane mi. of paved road, consisting of 50 mi. of City road and 7 mi. of Westchester County road. The department also is responsible for 10 bridges. But it’s not so much the bridges themselves that create most of work (and trouble) for the public works department; it’s what they cross over.
“Most of the bridges we’re responsible for go over two rivers in the city — one is called the Beaver Swamp Brook and the Blind Brook,” George said. “Both cut the city basically in half. We have had flooding problems through the years with these. There’s a 7,000-acre drainage basin that funnels through the Blind Brook, which creates two problems here when it comes to flooding. And we have flooding due to tidal situations, where we have to go out and evacuate people. And then we have the worst combination with both happening. We have tropical storms where we have both river and coastal flooding.”
As far as the roads are concerned, Rye, much like other Towns and Cities, has an annual street resurfacing program. In 2004, road maintenance crews put down 831.5 tons of blacktop, which represented twice as much as was used in 2003. Also in 2004, crews repaired a total of 1,701 ft. of asphalt curbing (also twice as much as the previous year) and installed 185 ft. of new curbing. Most of the city’s major road improvement projects are given out to local contractors.
“Right now, we’re only putting $300,000 for annual resurfacing; $225,000 of that comes by way of CHIPs,” George said. “We’re trying to have that increased. We haven’t received a final on it yet, but we’ve initiated a pavement management system, and when we get that final report, it will give us a better idea of what we need to spend every year to keep us on the right track of resurfacing our roads. I don’t think we’re going to get any more out of Albany, but this study will help us to establish the right annual funding for resurfacing between CHIPs and our own budget.”
The city also has an annual sidewalk repair program. “When we receive a complaint about a bad sidewalk, we’ll check it out,” George said. “If there’s no city tree raising the walk it’s the homeowner’s responsibility, even though it’s out in the right of way. They’re usually given a notice to repair their walk. If they don’t want to do it on their own, they have the option of having the city do it under a contract that we put out every year. They can take advantage of the better price that we get because we’re putting out $50,000 to $60,000 worth of sidewalk work each year.”
Road maintenance also is responsible for maintaining, installing or replacing any of the 2,105 streetlights on city-owned streets. The public works department has replaced almost all of Rye’s old mercury vapor lights with high-pressure sodium, which George said, is much more energy efficient.
The department’s signature project, which can be seen as one either walks or drives into the center of town, is a large retaining wall on Boston Post Road.
“We had problems with ledge rock falling into the road,” George said. “To resolve this we actually took a lane off the roadway for several years so we could put up barriers to keep people away from the falling rock. Ultimately, we decided to cut back the rock and build a reinforced concrete wall, which features a stone-formed panel. It’s also colorized. And we recently put a final product on it for graffiti protection. The only thing with that was that it added a higher gloss to the wall, but knock on wood, so far, we haven’t been tagged with any graffiti.”
Then, of course, there’s snow removal.
“People here expect to see pavement after a storm,” said George. “It’s different here from the more rural areas of the state because they obviously deal with a much higher snow quantity. Here, though, we deal with pavement. Many storms, we’ll just go out and apply salt; we no longer apply sand. We apply salt usually with a liquid calcium chloride, as almost anybody does at this end of the county.
“If it’s going to be a big storm, we make one pass on the main roads with salt so we can help prevent the ice bonding. And then right after that as the snow continues over two inches, we begin our plowing operations,” he continued. “We have 11 large plows, nine are sanders and salters. Then we have medium trucks, typically we’ve been getting a lot of Ford F550s, four-wheel drive medium trucks with 9-ft. plows, two of which have salters on them. And we have four front-end loaders.”
In all, there are 12 plowing routes, which for less than six inches of snow, will take approximately four to six hours to complete a full loop.
For snow removal, George looks forward to employing a relic next winter — a refurbished 1946 Barber-Greene snow loader.
Last year the engine blew, “It took us quite a while to find a diesel motor that would fit in it and keep this running,” he said. “But we were able to find different parts for it and it’s all set to go. The machine is something we couldn’t really argue about; you’re looking at spending $150,000 for a snow loader that you might use two or three times a year. The next time we get above six inches of snow, we’ll do snow removal and that’s when this gets put into action.”
Parks and Land Maintenance
Parks and Land Maintenance’s primary function is to maintain Rye’s parklets, cul-de-sacs, cemeteries, the Village Green, City Hall and areas around the city’s sanitary pumping stations. Responsibilities include grass cutting, weeding, flower planting, debris collection and shrub and hedge trimming.
This division also is responsible for the city’s shade trees, which includes both pruning healthy trees and removing dead ones. To grind up the latter, crews use a Bandit 3680 Beast horizontal grinder, which makes wood chips that are available for Rye residents.
The Repair Garage Division’s responsibility is to service, repair and maintain Rye’s motorized fleet of 128 vehicles, which consists of police, fire, public works and staff automobiles; four boats; and 90 pieces of miscellaneous equipment such as pumps, chains saws, mowers, generators and so on. To accomplish all this, the Garage employs one foreman, Jeff Simpson; four auto mechanics; one maintenance mechanic; one assistant auto mechanic and one auto mechanic helper.
Sanitation is a big job in the City of Rye. To start with, public works crews are responsible for maintaining and cleaning the city’s 53.4 mi. of sanitary sewer lines, more than 1,400 manholes and seven sewer pumping stations.
In 2004 alone, public works cleared 17 blockages, cleaned more than 10 mi. of sanitary lines, repaired five sewer manholes, and replaced 22 ft. of sewer pipe. Public works responds whenever there is a sewer backup on any property within Rye.
An alarm company monitors most of the pump stations in Rye. The system is designed to warn public works whenever there is a high water condition or a loss of power, either of which can cause a spillage.
“The pumping stations have to be checked two to three times a week just to make sure there’s no grease buildup, that the pumps are all operating well,” said George. “There are all but two right now on stationary generators with automatic transfer switching, so loss of power automatically triggers the generators. We’re in the process of installing two generators right now with our people doing the work.
“Then we have one station that will be totally rebuilt; that we’re going out to contract on. All these are very, very important. We’re right here on Long Island Sound; failure of any one of these stations will cause either spillage into the Sound or into private homes. When we have our Nor’easters, it’s a real problem.”
Crews also clean the city’s 29.9 mi. of storm drain lines and maintain 1,500 catch basins and open ditches.
“The larger drainage and sewage projects are given out to private contractors, but the smaller jobs, such as a sewer break, our people will do the repair,” said George. “Generally the 10-, 20-, 30-ft. sewer replacements are done by city forces.”
The biggest job of all (and the feather in George’s cap) was, without question, when Rye’s City Council requested in 1990 that he and his department take over garbage collection and disposal. Up to that time, private contractors had been handling this job for approximately 60 years.
“The city wanted to take over garbage collection solely based on cost,” George said. “The private contractor raised his price 50 percent in the first year of what would have been his new contract. We were paying just a little under a million dollars and that would have gone up to $1.7 million, just for the collection of household garbage. And we didn’t have a mandatory recycling law at that time.”
During the remaining 18 months of the private contractor’s contract, City Council granted George the authority to begin creating Rye’s sanitation department and one of the first things he did was follow the garbage contractor’s trucks around town to learn the routes.
“Then we had to come up with a budget,” began George. “Because of the amount that we would be spending, we had to put it out for a public vote. It was almost 50-50, and we won out by just a handful of votes. People did not believe that we could do it for what we said we could. After that, I ordered brand new equipment and we built a new maintenance repair garage.”
A new garage was key to the success or failure of Rye’s new sanitation department.
“Our old garage had two small vehicle lifts in it,” George said. “The men did all the servicing on the then-existing trucks on their backs. That old garage had pits in it, which were outlawed … they had to be closed up so everything had to be done on their backs and off of jacks. As part of taking over sanitation, we were able to build a brand new garage, build a locker room and lunchroom for all the public works staff, as well as a brand new maintenance facility. It was a great morale booster for everybody.”
Then George set about staffing the new department.
“We did hire some of the private contractor’s people,” he said. “Then we offered some of our existing employees promotional opportunities to go into sanitation. We canvassed all the other towns around us to find out what they were paying their people with the same sort of task operation … ‘do your route and go home.’ And we put our sanitation people at a grade that was close to everybody around us. It was a fair comparison. And so when we factored in their salaries and their benefits, add in equipment and operating costs, and that’s what it cost us. We saved the city significant money the first several years of operation.”
In fact, in the first year alone, George saved Rye approximately $750,000, which amounted to less than half what it would have cost the city and its residents with the private contractor.
How did he do it?
“We didn’t really do that much different from what the private contractor was doing,” he admitted. “We started with six routes, and balanced them by time and tonnage. We had brand new equipment and sure there was an initial cost, but we figured at a seven- or eight-year life cycle, with our potential savings, that we would come out ahead and we did.”
George set up two-man crews with each man having a CDL license so that each could leap frog during the routes, switching from driver to picker. He also runs a task operation.
“I believe that’s the only way garbage collection works well in this area of the county. The sanitation men have an assigned route, they do it and they go home. They don’t work on the clock.
“Every day, there are 12 sanitation men, two on each truck, working the garbage routes,” he said. “There’s a front-end loader operator, who is assigned to sanitation because he’s transferring recycling materials. There are two recyclers and a foreman, Scott Fontecchio, who oversees all of this. We have four other individuals whom we call ‘laborers/jumpers,’ who come in earlier with the sanitation force just in case someone doesn’t show up; they’re prescheduled to fill in for someone if he’s on vacation or sick. We use four people in this slot; if they’re not assigned to sanitation for the day, they fill in as regular laborers for the day. If they’re needed, they’ll either do recycling or sanitation.
“We kept smaller equipment, such as 18-cubic yard trucks, small snub-nosed trucks, so that we could get into some of the smaller streets that we have here and some long driveways to the big estates that we have in our city,” George continued.
“We go into people’s yards and pick up their garbage. The only thing people bring to the curb are their recyclables, metals, and green waste. This is what we give the residents here in Rye: They get regular household garbage collection, twice a week; they get recycling of pulp, such as newsprint and cardboard; and glass, cans and aluminum once a week; and they get green waste collection, such as grass clipping, branches, etc., once a week on Wednesdays; and they get bulk collection, such as old chairs, once a week. They also get metal collection on a call-in basis once a week on Wednesdays.”
All the collected trash is hauled to a transfer station in the City of White Plains, which is approximately 8 mi. away.
George, Rye DPW Score Well With Public
Approximately four years ago, Rye’s city manager asked residents through a survey to rate city services — public works, sanitation and recycling scored the highest for service.
“With the number of collections that we have each week, they’re very happy,” George said. “Sure, we miss stops every now and then and people call and complain. But we will always act professionally. For example, we have an ‘oops’ sticker for recycling when a resident does something wrong, which advises residents what we can and can’t pick up.
“Our sanitation foreman, Scott Fontecchio, will go out personally and meet with residents and try to straighten out the problem.
“Also, our men are trained so that as they go by a stop in the morning and there is no garbage, they call it into our dispatcher here at the office and say, ‘16 Maple Avenue has no garbage.’ It’s written in a log, so if the resident from that address calls later that day and says, ‘Hey, you forgot my garbage,’ We can say we were there at 7:45 this morning and there was nothing,” George explained.
“We don’t make a big issue out of this and our customers don’t either, because again, two days later, we’re there again picking of their garbage.
“You have either a Monday/Thursday collection, or you have a Tuesday/Friday collection. So, for example, Monday you’d put out your garbage; Tuesday is an off day; Wednesday, you’d put out your green waste, and if you have any metals, you’d call us up and tell us and we’ll pick it then; Thursday is garbage collection again. Recycling is collected once per week from every home.
“The twice a week collection, though, is I think what makes people most happy with the service.”
George added, “If they forget to put their garbage out on one day, two days later you have another chance. So it’s not a big deal.”
Keeping an Excellent Crew
“I have an excellent, excellent crew here,” George said. “I probably wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have the people I have working with me. We have good people. Foremen, Peter Anfuso, Scott Fontecchio, John Yusi, and Jeff Simpson as well as Pam Fazzino and Angela Yusi who run the office — they all run this operation as far as I’m concerned. They’re a great group of people. They take their jobs seriously, and they do their jobs well.”
Keeping good people is another matter, particularly in a city where the average house price is more than $1 million.
“We have more and more of our men, who aren’t still living with their parents, having to move further and further away,” George lamented. “The problem is that land cost is so expensive. We’ve lost two people in the past two years who have moved away because of housing. Two of them have gone to Florida. Some of the people who work for us live an hour or more away. And the cost of gas becomes an issue, too. It’s also challenging to get those people who live far way in here during a snow emergency.”
But, according to George, the city is looking at the issue of affordable housing for its public works people, firemen, and policemen.
“The city hopes that somehow there’s land that can be acquired and funding to purchase it,” George said. “They’re studying it now and hope they can solve this because eventually this will become a big problem. For example, in our fire department, there are only 16 or 17 paid people; the majority of the fire department is volunteer, so as the demographics change here as we become even more of a bedroom community, the number of blue-collar workers is becoming fewer and fewer. And I know it’s not just with Rye; it’s everyplace in this area.”
A Joy Helping People
“I know I’m of retirement age, but I have no thoughts of where I want to go,” George said. He’s 56.
“The City of Rye is a nice little town. It has a lot of character. Although whenever I walk down the street, I always bring a pad and pencil with me because somebody undoubtedly will say to me, ‘Oh, and by the way, I have this tree …’ or ‘I have this sidewalk …’ and so on. But it’s a pleasure to try and help people.”
In his free time, George likes to ride his Harley and be a member of an all-volunteer team for Jim Rosenblum Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series.
It’s FDNY Racing [Fire Department of New York],” he explained. “We’ve done this post-911; all the money raised through souvenirs, etc. is donated to the widows’ and children’s fund of the New York City Fire Department. We were in Daytona, but we didn’t qualify; next we’re going to Charlotte, NC. It’s a great group of guys, there’re some active and retired firemen involved, as well as a retired police officer. We love doing it.”
As far as the Harley is concerned,” George continued, “on Sundays I’ll get on the bike and just ride around and get lost. I’ll head up to Connecticut and Massachusetts; it’s a good way to clear your head.
Rye is the oldest permanent settlement in Westchester County. It began in 1660 when Peter Disbrow, John Coe and Thomas Studwell came from Greenwich with a small group of settlers. They were joined by John Budd the following year. Their first treaty with the Mohegan Indians gave them the land between Milton Point and the Byram River (Peningoe Neck); then the mile-long “Manussing” Island. Within several years their combined purchases consisted of all of what is now the City of Rye, Town of Rye, Harrison, White Plains, parts of Greenwich, North Castle, and Mamaroneck.
In 1665, Connecticut merged these settlements under the name of Rye after ancestors in Rye, England. In 1683, Rye was ceded unwillingly to the Province of New York by King Charles II as a gift to his brother, the Duke of York. But when a New York court severed the Harrison area from the settlement in 1695, the Rye colonists rejoined Connecticut in protest.
In 1700, Rye again became part of New York by royal decree, this time permanently. The New York State Legislature officially established the Town of Rye boundaries in 1788.
For two centuries, Rye remained a secluded community. Land was cleared for farming and cattle grazing. Docks were built on Long Island Sound, and oystering was an important occupation. Homes along Mill Town Road, now Milton, led to grist mills on Blind Brook.
In the late 19th century, Rye experienced its first real growth and change. The era of the trolley made surrounding communities accessible. (Through a series of careful transfers, one could travel all the way to New York City for eight cents.)
By 1904, there were two schools, five churches, a library, and a population of 3,500 residents.
The growing community became dissatisfied with the services of the Rye Town Board, on which it had no representation. The Rye Village Incorporation League organized public meetings; “letters to the editor” debated the merits of independence. The Legislature passed a bill of incorporation and on Sept. 12, 1904, a special election was held at Theodore Fremd’s market. The taxpayers voted 155 in favor, 47 opposed — and Rye became a village.
During the 1920s, the post-war boom and the advent of parkways and commuter trains brought a rush of prospective suburbanites and summer residents to the flourishing village. This was Rye’s greatest period of growth and by 1930, there were nearly 9,000 people.
As Rye developed, so did the residents’ desire for complete independence from the town government. City status offered many advantages, one being relief from paying a disproportionate share of the town welfare tax.
In 1940, the legislature approved the Rye City Charter which was adopted by the residents 1,172 to 34. On Jan. 1, 1942, Rye became Westchester’s sixth and smallest city.
Today, the City of Rye is a unique blending of the old and the new. Now a residential, suburban community with every facility for modern living, it still retains its traditional atmosphere of tranquil village life as well as many historic landmarks that bind it to its three-hundred year history.
Still small as cities go (1990 census population: 14,936), Rye is primarily a place in which to live rather than to make a living. One-third of Rye’s working residents commute to New York City, 25 railroad mi. away. Others are employed in Westchester, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Long Island as well as in the 200 small businesses and several large firms located here.
(The information in this section, “About Rye,” was provided by the city’s Web site at www.ryeny.gov.) P