Gregory J. Wier unopposed for highway super

GUILDERLAND — Gregory J. Wier was born and raised in Guilderland and has worked for the town since 1985, “pretty much my whole working career,” he said. He is running unopposed to continue as the town’s highway superintendent. 

He added, “I started out as a laborer and worked my way up through the ranks.”

Wier was a foreman for 15 years under former highway superintendent Todd Gifford, he said. In 2010, Wier became the superintendent at the transfer station, which was a separate department at the time. In 2015, he took on the Parks and Recreation Department and the golf course as well, “so I had three departments,” he said. 

In 2018, when Stephen Oliver retired a year before the end of his term, the town’s supervisor, Peter Barber, asked if Wier would lead the highway department and then run for highway superintendent, which Wier did in the fall of 2018. 

He no longer oversees Parks and Recreation or the golf course.

Wier is in charge of the highway department, which now includes the transfer station. He retained that part of the broad responsibilities. The golf course is now run by Herb Moreland, and the Parks and Recreation Department by Colin Gallup. 

Wier, an enrolled Conservative, has the Conservative, Independence, and Democratic party lines in the November election, he said. 

He considers himself fiscally conservative. “Fiscally conservative is always a good position to be, especially when you’re dealing with a budget like the highway or the transfer station’s lines, making sure you can do the most with the money you have,” he said.

The proposed highway department budget for next year is at about $3.384 million, he said; just under $1 million covers salaries, and “pretty much the rest … really for equipment, supplies, utilities, equipment repair, everything the sign department needs for signs, sidewalks, stormwater, and snow removal,” Wier said. According to Guilderland’s comptroller, Darci Efaw, this year’s town tax levy was about $11.5 million. 

The budgeted amount to cover the highway budget rose from $1.09 per $1,000 of assessed value this year to $1.11 per $1,000 in 2020, Wier said. 

If office staff are included, the highway department has 42 full-time employees including Wier, he said. There are no part-time workers, although during the summer the department hires about four seasonal workers, usually recent high-school graduates or college students. 

“I’m comfortable with our current rate,” Wier said of the staffing. “I’d like to see it stay where it is.” 

Nearly all of the 38 highway workers are on the roads in winter when the town’s 18 trucks plow, since each truck carries two employees, one to drive and the other a wingman who operates the controls for the plow and the wing. 

Wier noted that the state’s Department of Transportation usually has just one person in a plow, but said that the state’s roads are generally long straightaways. The town’s roads, by contrast, require a good deal of turning around and maneuvering, making it easier to have two people. 

The town’s policy is to have roads cleared once by 7 a.m., and a full plow run takes three-and-a-half to four hours. “You have an idea of how much a typical season will chew up in overtime,” he said, noting that overtime work can be needed not only in winter but also in summer after storms that leave damage such as downed trees. 

The budgeted figure for overtime pay next year is about $148,000, down from this year’s approximately $150,000. It fell, he said, because of retirements; although the department still has the same number of staff, the average hourly rate is lower, making the overtime budget lower as well. 

About recycling, including the idea of offering a composting service to take care of residents’ food scraps, as Bethlehem does, Wier said, “I’d like to get more information on that.” 

The only spot the town of Guilderland has for a composting facility would be at the transfer station, he said, “and that’s really designed for bringing stuff in and out.” He added, “We don’t have anywhere to do food scrap composting right now.” 

The town does offer pickup of yard refuse, including bagged leaves and brush, he said, with two trucks going out to pick it up in spring, summer, and fall, and residents are also free to bring yard waste to the transfer station and dump it in the pile at no cost. A company comes periodically and grinds up the refuse, taking most away, leaving about 100 yards, which residents are free to come and get to use on their gardens. 

The transfer station also accepts materials for recycling at no charge, he said, although the market is changing, he said. These materials are brought to a recycling company, he said. 

“Years ago, you actually got a decent amount if it was clean and separated,” he said of recyclable material. The department always tried to bale and offset its costs for getting rid of glass, tin, and plastic. 

The market now for glass, tin, and plastics is terrible, Wier said, and that for paper and cardboard has dropped way off. 

The decision was made that due to the increased cost to dispose of the recyclables a fee needed to be collected.

Because of the increased costs for disposing of these, the town is going to start requiring that residents pay to dispose of recyclables, as of Jan. 1, 2019, Wier said. 

“When a resident uses the Transfer Station to dispose of their household garbage they purchase a punch card. That card covers their garbage and recyclables. Some residents have contracted haulers for their garbage but use the Transfer Station for their recyclables, for those folks they will now need to purchase the punch card to dispose of their recyclables,” he explained.

The recycling program seems to be going pretty well in terms of participation, he said. “When I’m driving around at night and I see the commercial trucks, it seems like a lot of people have two cans out there. It seems like residents are doing a good job. We still get a fair amount brought to the transfer station by residents, although there’s no market for it any more,” he said. 

Guilderland’s highway department has a sign shop that makes signs for the town, including street signs, stop signs, chevrons for curves, memorial highway signs, and other signs needed for the roadways. Guilderland also makes these for other municipalities when they request it, and charges them only for any materials and for labor. 

Guilderland does not pay the sign shop for signs, Wier said; this is covered by lines in the budget for supplies and for repairs. The county used to have a sign shop that municipalities including the Hilltowns sometimes used, Wier said; county spokeswoman Mary Rozak confirmed that the county no longer has a sign shop.

Guilderland has 168 miles of roads, all paved except for a few private roads, each with one or two houses on them. The town plows these with a pickup truck. Wier does not believe these private roads need to be paved. “Not many people are affected,” he said. “They don’t go anywhere, they don’t do anything,” he said. 

A road safety management system is used to determine needed repairs, Wier said. Every spring, two employees survey every road in town, giving each road a rating for conditions such as cracking or potholes as well as a rating for volume of traffic. Cul-de-sacs are low volume, he said, and roads connecting one area of town to another, like Old State Road, are high volume. 

The town enters the data into its management system, which then gives a report, assigning a value to every road and making recommendations on the roads that should be considered for repairs. 

At that point, a foreman and Wier look at the roads deemed in need of repair and determine which they will do this year, and whether they need patching or repairing. 

Asked if there are any other roads in town like Hurst Road, which the town leveled a year ago after two fatal crashes, many years apart, by teenagers joyriding over its sharp hills, Wier said he has not had complaints about roads that need repair for that kind of safety. 

He has gotten complaints about speed, he said, for instance on lower Grant Hill Road. It is a narrow, windy road, he said with a huge ravine on one side and a steep hill on the other, and no way to widen the road. 

“There’s a guide rail there, and we make sure it’s intact and in good shape,” Wier said. The town also has placed signs on Grant Hill road, including “sharp turn,” chevrons, and downhill signs, he said. He added, “There isn’t an accident history on it like Hurst Road.” 

A lot of the work of the daily operations in the office is computer-based, Wier said. The department uses Excel often, and creates databases in Microsoft Office Access that continually update themselves, he said. 

The department keeps track of repairs to highway department and transfer station vehicles this way, Wier said.  

The lion’s share of highway department funding — Wier estimated it at 90 percent — comes from taxpayers in the town of Guilderland through the tax levy, Wier said. 

The town also receives some money through the state’s Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs), Wier said, as do all municipalities based on many miles of road they have. CHIPs money can be used for anything to do with road maintenance, he explained. 

The town gets money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency only after natural disasters, Wier said. “We don’t usually get that,” he said, “and that’s OK because that means I didn’t have a big emergency.” 

Wier works with the town’s grant writer, Donald Csaposs, a lot, he said. 

Currently, they have applied for funding to offset the cost of a new loader to move and sort piles of recyclables, like construction debris. Also included in that application is funding toward a packer truck used to pick up yard refuse and other materials. 

The town always tries to get the best price for equipment, through any of several avenues, Wier said. He explained that these include getting vehicles through a state contract, or piggybacking on another municipality’s bid, or getting used equipment. He recently bought several pieces of used equipment, Wier said. 


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