After 31-and-a-half years, Waterford Public Works Director Ron Cusano is calling it quits.
“I do like the job, I really did enjoy the job,” said the 61-year-old Cusano, who is retiring at the end of the month. “But I never thought I’d be here for 31 years.”
Cusano was hired by the Town of Waterford in 1981 as the assistant director of public works. Nineteen years later, after Ed Steward – First Selectman Dan Steward’s brother – retired, he took over the job as director, a post he has held ever since.
In his 31 years with the town, the last 12 years as director, there has been a lot of change in the way the department has operated. The dump was closed and the transfer station at 1000 Hartford Turnpike opened, the town rebuilt most of its roads, trash and recycling pick-up became automated, the way the town salted its roads changed and now Cusano has dealt with increasingly more stringent budgets.
Meanwhile, elected officials have long praised Cusano for keeping his budget under control, as he even lost four positions via attrition in 2011 to keep costs down. At Cusano’s last Board of Finance meeting last week, member J.W. “Bill” Sheehan lauded him for being one of the most fiscally mindful department heads, almost to a fault.
“You’ve done a great job keeping your budgets low, and believe it or not sometimes I don’t think you’ve asked for enough money,” Sheehan said. “We thank you for your years of exemplary service.”
Cusano was hired in June of 1981 as the assistant director of public works after working for the state of Massachusetts and the city of Norwich. At the time, Waterford was installing sewer lines and then rebuilding most of the roads, and Cusano’s job was to oversee that construction.
“We rebuilt a majority of the roads in Waterford,” he said. “That was a big job for a lot of years.”
After 19 years at that position, he became the director of public works. One of his first big jobs was to close down the dump on Miner Lane per mandate by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and open a transfer station at 1000 Hartford Turnpike.
In 2001, the dump on Miner Lane was closed and a temporary transfer station was opened at the front of the dump while the permanent one was constructed. In 2003, the new transfer station opened behind the public works department, a facility Cusano is proud of.
“This is really a state of the art facility,” Cusano said. “And we really had to fit it in a tight spot. It worked out well.”
In 2007, the next big change was going from salt and sand to clear the streets of ice to treated rock salt. The treated rock salt was much easier to clean up and was far less likely to rust out trucks driving on road, he said.
In 2011, the big change was going from recycling the old way to single-stream recycling, where trucks would pick up 96-gallon recycling buckets instead of workers picking up 15-gallon recycling containers. Cusano said that move improved morale, was far more cost effective and increased the amount of recyclables the town receives, which saves the town money and is good for the environment.
“The days of doing things by hand are going away,” Cusano said. “It just isn’t cost effective.”
Throughout that span, he also managed the dozens of workers at public works, dealt with all the town’s elected officials to get projects pushed through and the thousands of Waterford residents the department touches every week. He said sometimes the public and the elected officials can be tough to deal with, but the secret is to find satisfaction from within.
“Completing projects, that’s what gave me the most satisfaction in this job,” said Cusano, referring mostly to completing road reconstruction projects and the accomplishments listed above. “You don’t take this job for attaboys, because for every 100 calls you get, 99 will be complaints and one will be an attaboy... So you need to find what makes you satisfied, and for me, I got my satisfaction from completing projects.”
First Selectman Dan Steward said Public Works Assistant Director Kristin Zawacki will serve as the interim director as the position is filled, and said there is a good chance the job could go to her. Cusano said he had Zawacki build the public works’ budget for the 2013-14 Fiscal Year, so she can defend it during the budget hearings in the spring.
Steward said the loss is a hit, as the town is losing 31 years of “institutional knowledge.” But he wished Cusano well and said he did a good job during his years of service.
Meanwhile, Cusano said he is excited for Jan. 1, 2013, the first day he will be retired. He plans to go to the gym, work around his house and maybe do some consulting work – although not any time soon.
“I want to relax, and get away from work for awhile,” Cusano said. “I’m looking forward to it.”