Roger Chirico is an incumbent Republican seeking reelection as town highway superintendent after serving numerous terms in office
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Roger Chirico has spent much of his life running heavy equipment — road construction vehicles, cranes, and the like. In middle-age, he started running for local offices. Now he’s at it again, seeking re-election as Philipstown highway superintendent, a Republican facing no partisan opposition. It won’t be the first time. In the last dozen years or so, “I’ve never had opposition in the general election,” Chirico said in an interview last Friday, Oct. 21, in his office, a trailer in the highway department yard on Fishkill Road. “I think I attribute that to putting the time in” and getting the job done. Despite his easy electoral chances now, his first attempt to become highway superintendent failed, he pointed out. “Way back, when I first came into town,” he said, he sought the office and “took an awful beating. But we never gave up; we hung in there with the politics.” He eventually came to the job in the late 1990s, a Republican named by a Democratic-majority Town Board to fill an unexpired term. After that, he had to run for the post, won, and has kept it.
His first electoral triumphs, though, came in non-partisan Cold Spring politics. Initially elected to the Village Board as a trustee, he went on to serve as mayor in the late 1980s. “That got me involved in politics.” While in office, “we took on a lot of chores,” he said. He was mayor when federal Superfund efforts to clean up the toxic mess left by the old Marathon battery plant got underway.
A U.S. Navy veteran (and long-time Cold Spring Boat Club member), Chirico lived in the Town of Cortlandt before moving to Philipstown about 45 years ago. For 40 years, he has resided on Parrott Street, in one “of the original foundry homes,” built for mid-19th-century employees of the West Point Foundry.
In-house capability and other accomplishments
Among accomplishments as highway superintendent, he lists the department’s ability to handle jobs “in-house” whenever possible, without having to bring in outside contractors. For example, he said, the department did the work on the Recreation Center parking lot; some components of the Garrison water district system; upgrading of East Mountain Road North, originally unpaved; installation of 11 culverts, and constructing the 4.5-acre highway department complex, on Fishkill Road at the edge of Nelsonville. “We never had an engineer here, ever” on staff and he and his 13 full-time employees tackle whatever they can directly, he said. At age 79, “I get out in the field myself, too” -– perhaps an understatement to those familiar with his habit of taking the controls of a piece of equipment. “The more you can do in-house, the more money you save.” However, at times, such as in the present post-hurricane push before winter sets in, he must bring in outside contractors, he said. “There’s so much going on here, it’s impossible. There’s no way we can handle this in-house.”
Other highlights he mentioned include a revision in the way the town handles recycling, he said. In a program implemented in tandem with similar changes in the Village of Cold Spring, the town no longer pays to have its recycling hauled away. In fact, it now sells the stuff and makes money. “It’s not so much how much you make; it’s what you save,” he said. “It’s not your money; it’s taxpayers’ money. My job is to save money.” Also, he added, “I was the first one to pioneer consolidation” of highway department activities and sharing of equipment with Putnam County and Cold Spring.
Challenges: storms and dirt roads
As he looks ahead both short-term and over the next four years, he said, challenges include the continued process of dealing with hurricane damage, infrastructure maintenance, and dirt roads -– one of his particular concerns. Weather-wise, “this was a very, very bad year,” he said, noting that “just getting the roads back in shape” to a minimal degree after Hurricane Irene cost $123,726. Bridges need work, too, including routine sanding and painting, and debris continues to clog creeks. After the storm damage, the streams “are getting plugged up and it’s changing the course of the streams,” posing problems for roads and property, he said.
Nonetheless, “dirt roads are the biggest expense here,” he emphasized. For March and part of April, the town spent nearly $65,000 “just in dirt road maintenance. Dirt roads take [bio-degradable] chemicals 12 months a year” as well as replenishment of surface dirt when it gets washed away, he said. Moreover, “when that run-off gets in these brooks, it’s very costly—very costly,” he said. Dirt roads also require special equipment that “I’ve got to buy. Nobody has that,” so it cannot be borrowed from other government jurisdictions. “We can’t afford to keep going the way we’re going” with dirt roads, he said. Chirico discounted the argument that dirt roads enhance safety by slowing traffic: “I can’t leave a road full of potholes and washboards because people are going to go too fast.”
Photo by L. S. Armstrong