Schenectady County

Help wanted again: A good Schenectady city engineer

The city is searching yet again for a professional engineer.

The city is searching yet again for a professional engineer.

It’s the third time in seven years that Schenectady has lost an engineer, a situation that city officials used to attribute to poor pay and overwork.

The engineer supervises multi-million dollar projects for water, sewer and street divisions. In larger cities, those divisions are each overseen by a separate engineer.

But in Schenectady, there’s only enough money to pay one. The salary has gone up significantly during the city’s stretch of short-term engineers, but the city still got only one applicant when it last advertised two years ago.

The salary then was $94,000. It is now $95,880. In 2004, when the city’s dry spell began, the salary was $76,734.

City Engineer Paul Casillo promised to work for the $94,000 salary for two years. His time is now up, and he retired last month. After a two-week vacation, he returned to work on an hourly basis.

The city expects to spend $18,000 on his hourly pay in the next two months.

Acting Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city should put a greater focus on engineering.

“Our focus has gone to police and fire. Engineering was dramatically downsized even though that’s what the city does — paves the roads, water and sewer, the hard services,” McCarthy said.

The engineer must supervise city jobs but also inspect work done by contractors for the city, to make sure the projects are completed correctly.

“Make sure it’s done to specs, to make sure the city is getting what we paid for,” McCarthy said.

The city also needs an engineer who can track down and inspect contractors who don’t get permits to cut holes in city streets.

The city has long complained of problems with Verizon, National Grid and private contractors breaking through city streets to reach the infrastructure underneath. If those holes are not properly filled, the city winds up with potholes and higher maintenance costs.

And then there are the mistakes made while workers dig into the streets.

Last month, McCarthy came upon a National Grid team working at night as water poured down the street.

“They told me it was groundwater,” he said.

He called out a city crew. They determined that National Grid had accidentally broken a water line because the crew had begun digging without asking city workers to mark the water and sewer lines in the area.

“If they have a gas emergency, we’ll send out a crew and mark,” McCarthy said. “It was just National Grid not playing by the rules.”

The company is paying for the repairs, he said.

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