After nearly 20 years of keeping Scarsdale humming, Department of Public Works Superintendent Benny Salanitro has retired at 55.
He came into the village in April 1999 as the village engineer and accepted a promotion to become superintendent two years later.
This line of work isn’t foreign to him, as he served as Tarrytown’s DPW superintendent from 1993 until 1999 before coming to Scarsdale.
Public works is very diverse and has always been enjoyable for Salanitro, a licensed professional engineer.
It’s a profession that isn’t as cut and dry as one may assume.
The department in Scarsdale has 79 employees and hires part-time employees during leaf season and the summer — the two busiest times for public works. Salanitro deals with both the operational and administrative aspects of municipal projects.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” he said. “We get down to the nuts and bolts of problem solving while getting the big picture project planning. I think the diversity is what I like, I don’t like [my work] to get stale.”
As head of the department, Salanitro has the opportunity to be a part of the thinking process for all major decisions.
Since starting his career back in the 1980s, Salanitro said the biggest change has been the degree and level of communication the public has with the government.
“When I first started in the industry back in 1985, working full time for New York City and the village of Mamaroneck, typewriters were it,” he said. “We went from typing a letter, putting in snail mail and waiting for a response. Today, everything is immediate. When you look at the tasks over the years, the tasks haven’t changed, but the ability to respond has.”
Having worked in several municipalities, Salanitro said he’s enjoyed his time with each one.
“Every one of them has its own expectation of how services are delivered,” he said. “This is a service-oriented business. There’s an expectation that the taxpayer is going to get a service. My thing has been, how can I deliver that service through my resources?”
In Scarsdale, he said, the responsibility of maintaining the highest level of service is more pronounced than elsewhere and he believes he and others in the department have met those challenges.
Scarsdale also has a heightened level of collaboration between residents serving on committees and councils and village officials.
“The Conservation Advisory Council is one of many groups I’ve interacted with over the years,” Salanitro said.
From sustainable and eco-friendly initiatives like leaf mulching or grass-cycling to the more recent push to have curbside collection of food scraps and the LED street light replacement program, Salanitro and his department have worked side by side with members of the CAC and other organizations to manage data, numbers and reports.
“We’ve done some good things; the CAC is a good advocate to make sure the service deliveries are happening and we’re moving in the right direction with environmental aspects,” Salanitro said.
The DPW crews work eight hours a day, but are on call 24/7.
“We’re a phone call away and the workers in the DPW know they can be called at a moment’s notice to respond to an emergency or anything that requires their response.”
That includes removing snow during and right after a major snowstorm or clearing trees knocked down by rain and wind.
Crews do their job with little recognition on a day-to-day basis, but Salanitro said that isn’t the point of the job.
“We don’t have parades, we don’t have stars and stripes,” he said. “We don’t have ceremonies for the job we do. And that’s okay. I think the mayor and board of trustees, when they see things, they make sure they let the public know that public works did a great job.”
However, one thing Salanitro did appreciate was getting the Department of Public Works officially identified as first responders. That happened right after 9/11, thanks to former President George W. Bush’s decision to recognize those outside the traditional police and fire personnel who work as first responders.
“We have to make sure the equipment is running and the streets are clear,” Salanitro said. “Other departments that are known as first responders can’t function if we don’t function. We don’t worry about being unsung heroes. The folks who need to know, know. I’m modest about it because I have a job to do.”
Salanitro’s modest attitude comes with a positive attitude as well, which, he said, made the job easier and helped gain the respect of residents.
Through the years in Scarsdale, the DPW chief experienced high points, like the revitalization of the sidewalks in the downtown center, which was a multiyear job, and the reconstruction of the Popham Road bridge. Along the way, the department kept a lot of project tasks in-house such as snow removal and street cleaning.
Despite Salanitro “retiring” from the village, the work isn’t over.
With 34 years of municipal experience in the New York State pension system and as a licensed professional engineer, he said he plans to continue working as a consultant.
“I’m young enough to continue to work, but I’m not going into a rocking chair, I’m too young for that,” Salanitro said.
Salanitro said his time in Scarsdale gave him the opportunity to expand his ideas and thoughts. “I didn’t get stifled,” he said. “This [has been] a long run and a great stretch.”