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Highway Superintendent Jason Sartori and the Town of Dover

Mary Yamin-Garone - PROFILE CORRESPONDENT - February 2024

Zach Klingner rolls blacktop on Blackberry Road. Zach Klingner keeping the equipment clean. Brian Whalen, Howie Craft and Nick Savarese replace a culvert pipe and repave on North Farm Drive Nick Savarese and Billy Lowes work at seeding and mulching the edge of a road after a repair is completed. Brian Whalen and Andrew Holmes prepare a concrete slab for exercise equipment being installed at JH Ketcham park. Brian Whalen, Nick Savarese (in excavator) and Andrew Holmes remove old asphalt to prepare for paving. The town of Dover team works on Berkshire Road replacing a catch basin. The team paves Blackberry Road. Andrew Holmes repairs drainage pipes. Brian Whalen and Andrew Holmes repair Ridge Road after a major washout caused by a rainstorm on July 9, 2023. The town of Dover highway department repairs a dry well/catch basin on Railroad Avenue. Joe Platt takes care of the fleet and keeps things running for the town of Dover highway department.

For Jason Sartori it doesn't get any better than this. He loves his family. He loves the town where he has spent most of his life. He loves getting up every morning and doing his job as the highway superintendent of the town of Dover and he loves his parakeet, Peek.

Born and bred in Dover, N.Y., Jason attended Dover High School. After graduation, he started his own business.

For 30 years, he owned Sartori's Lawn and Landscaping.

"In a sense, I look at the highway department as a large maintenance company," he said. "Basically, you do the same things. For me, having that business experience helps immensely. Some people come here and run with no business experience. The person before me was one of those. A lot of it here is business because you must have a budget and pay attention to your money.

"Without that experience, it's different," he added. "I always had to go out in a landscaping business. You have to find work and do work to make money. In this position, you already have the money. Your budget is whatever it is. You already have the money, so you need to work with that money and get all you can out of that money. It's somewhat like the opposite. One business you're trying to make the money and this one here, you're trying to spend the money. It's basically the same, just reversed."

Decisions, Decisions

So, how did he end up at the highway department?

"I've lived here all my life," Jason said. "That was the real reason. I was tired of seeing the waste of money and things not getting done. Did I do it for a job? No, because I have a nice landscaping business, but I walked away from it to come here to make things better. I wanted to stop wasting taxpayers' money. As a taxpayer, I was tired of things not getting done. I was looking out for the money, stopping the waste and putting it to good use.

"I wanted to get everybody back to work instead of driving around and doing nothing," he added. "Seriously, I'm not going to fake it and lie and BS anybody. When nothing gets done, tax dollars are getting thrown down and nothing's getting accomplished, I have a problem. So did lots of other residents. That's why I ran and had lots of support. The people know who I am and what I've accomplished over the years with my own business."

This is Jason's fourth year on the job, his first re-election and running unopposed.

"It's good because the townspeople see what I've accomplished. I've straightened things out and put everybody back to work instead of driving trucks around town and doing nothing. When people see that, they get excited."

When asked if the job was everything he expected, Jason answered with a resounding, "yes."

"There's a lot going on. Maybe a little overwhelming at times, but I'm used to that. I'm the guy who steps up when the chips are down and gets things done. I have good organizational skills and I'm right on top of things. When things go wrong, I'm cool, calm and collected. While I had my business, I did different projects for other people. There's lots going on. Over the years, things like that help you relax and get it done."

Family First

Family is an important part of Jason's life.

"My wife, Tanya, works in retail as an assistant manager at CVS. My son, Dylan, runs my lawn and landscaping business. Last, but not least, is my daughter, Casey May, an aspiring actress living in Los Angeles."

In his spare time, Jason enjoys hunting, fishing, golf and outdoor activities.

When asked about retirement, he admitted, "It's too early to tell. I like things the way they are … for now."

On the Job

The highway department consists of three buildings. One is their main office and a garage building that's 70 ft. by 100 ft.

"That houses our office, bathrooms, lunchroom, mechanic shop and a big bay for the trucks we use in the winter," Jason said. "The second one is a new building we just put up. It's a 50-foot by 100-foot all-enclosed metal building with five bays, so we can store our equipment when not in use. Then, we have another 20-foot by 50-foot building for the grader that has its own special garage. Eventually, it'll go into the new building. We're also going to make a sign shop."

As highway superintendent Jason, is responsible for maintaining the town's 47 paved lane miles of road and 23 that are gravel. That translates into eight plowing routes that take roughly four hours to complete. He's also responsible for 10 bridges. Under his watchful eye, the Dover highway department runs on a total operating budget of $1.65 million that includes salaries and benefits for employees, an annual CHIPS allocation of $285,000, $43,259 for PAVE NY, $36,642 for Extreme Winter Recovery and $28,839 for Pave Our Potholes.

Together, Jason and his crew of 10 full-timers serve the county's 8,500 residents. His staff includes foreman Brian Whalen; mechanic Joe Platt; heavy motor equipment operators Nick Savarese, Howie Craft, Billy Lowes, Andrew Holmes and Andrew Hough; Zach Klingner and John Lane, both HEMOs; and Terri Jacopino, assistant to the highway superintendent.

When asked what he'd like to say to them, Jason's response was a resounding, "Thank you. They came from not doing a lot of stuff to what we've been able to accomplish since I've been here. Whether it was paving roads, going back to work, doing ditch work, fixing bridges. No matter what it was. They went back to work and people noticed and that's what makes a difference. It keeps me here and people see what you get done and see those guys are working.

Keeping the Fleet Current

To perform its duties, the town uses a modest fleet of equipment that includes:

  • eight plow trucks;
  • three one-ton trucks;
  • three pick-up trucks;
  • two John Deere loaders;
  • one Cat grader;
  • one large Ingersoll roller;
  • one John Deere mower/tractor;
  • one Kubota excavator; and
  • one John Deere backhoe.

What equipment needs updating the most?

"Our plow trucks," Jason said. "Some are getting to the end of their term. Hopefully, by the end of this coming season, I can order one or two.

"When I got here, an equipment fund didn't exist. So, every year we put $25,000 into a fund. So, when we're going to buy a truck, we already have money set aside to start. That way I'll always get that money back. The taxpayers aren't going to see much of a difference payment-wise because we put money away as we went. So, it's not a big shock to them when taxes go up. That's how I budget for new equipment.

"We have eight plow trucks now. The salt and conditions go for every town, state or county. No matter how much you wash them, this is worse. Your car is one thing. It's not as bad. They're out there putting it down. It destroys their electric wires. It eats and corrodes them and everything else and the metal on them. Everything! Just the atmosphere you're in.

"We haven't had much snow the past few years. Slush, freezing rain, ice. Things like that. Believe it or not, it still takes the same amount of work to straighten it out. Maybe do that several times. You put down the same amount of product and go through the same process. I'd rather just plow dried powdery snow."

Future needs?

"Plow trucks and an over-the-rail mower. It's on a bigger tractor with an arm that reaches on the other side of the guardrail, so you can mow as you go. We rent one for a month from companies around here that sell tractors and such. It would be nice to own one, sometime. It runs about $125,000, $130,000."

Is the job everything you expected?

"It gets a little overwhelming sometimes, but I'm used to that. I'm the guy who steps up when the chips are down and gets things done. I have good organizational skills and I'm always on top of things. I'm also cool, calm and collected. I think it helps you get to that level of just relaxing and getting it done.

"Lots of people aren't. They're fine in everyday life or doing things at work, but suddenly everything goes wrong, and you need to step up. I'm the guy who pushes people out of the way to step to the front of the line and take care of things. That's who I am. That's my personality. Some of us are made that way and others aren't. Some like to stand in line and be told what to do. I've always been the one telling them."

What's disappointed you the most?

"Lack of money to get things done. My budget is $1.65 million. A million dollars is payroll. Then, there's eight full-time employees, my assistant and me. That leaves me with $650,000. After that, $250,000 goes to sand and salt for roads. I take that right off the top and I'm left with roughly $400,000.

"Whether that pays for things like equipment or you have to make payments on your equipment, it takes care of that. Then, you have road repairs or a whole other section of it. It balances out so you end up spending quite a bit on repairing roads or equipment and things like that. We also get money from different programs that we spend on paving and other things. There's extra money on top of stuff, but it's just the lack of money to do more. I try to build up a small pool of money for rainy days, so you don't get caught short handed."

The hardest part?

"The long hours and thankless time you put in. You're on call 24/7 no matter what and don't get paid."

Most difficult?

"Dealing with some of the chronic complainers. You know. The ones who want to complain about every little thing."

Most important?

"Making sure I spend the taxpayers' money sensibly, do the right thing for them and protect the townspeople. That's what I came here for. Through my business, people know who I am. I explain what we did with their tax dollars. I'm not afraid to tell them the cost of something and how much we spent on it. It's important that the people understand that.

"You can pave all you want, but if you're not curing those issues, you're wasting your money. They're the unsung things you do that are probably more important than paving and plowing. People don't realize that."

With an eye on the future, when it's time to hang up his superintendent's hat, Jason wants "to leave the town in a better place than when I started. That's my goal."

About the Town of Dover

Dover is a town in Dutchess County. The population was 8,415 at the 2020 census. The town was named after Dover in England, the hometown of an early settler. It's located on the eastern boundary of the county, north of Pawling, south of Amenia and west of the state of Connecticut.

In 1637, the Pequot people had been driven from their former homes in Connecticut and settled in what's now Dover. They were led by Gideon Mauwee for part of their time in that location.

The town was formed in 1807 from part of the town of Pawling. The first town meeting took place in the home of John Preston, an early settler. That home, built circa 1730, is now an inn and restaurant known as Old Drovers Inn.

The Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center (1924–1994) was a major source of employment for Dover and the surrounding areas. When the center was closed in 1994, many businesses in the area were hit hard. Many of the brick and marble buildings on the grounds still stand. The property and buildings were purchased in 2003 by the Benjamin Development Corporation. It was acquired by Olivet University in 2013 and now serves as the Evangelical Center. The buildings are currently being renovated and restored.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 56.3 sq. mi., of which 55.2 sq. mi. is land and 1.2 sq. mi. is water. The town is drained by the Ten Mile River, which flows from the north through the center of town, then turns east into Connecticut and joins the Housatonic River. The eastern town line is the border of Connecticut and the Appalachian Trail passes through the town. P

(History courtesy of http://www.townofaurora.com/about-us/)