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From vocation to recreation; town engineer retiring

JULIE LANE PHOTO
Town Engineer John Cronin, center. At left, Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr.

In an ideal world, the retirement of two of the town’s major officials wouldn’t happen concurrently.

But the world is not ideal, Town Engineer John Cronin said, explaining why he will leave his town post within a couple of months after Highway Superintendent and Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr. leaves office on March 31.

Last fall, when the Town Board was discussing Mr. Cronin’s plans to retire, the budget called for hiring an engineer to assist him in 2019,  gradually transitioning to the top job.

That was well before Mr. Card had hinted he wanted to end his long career as a town employee, first as a police officer and then elected Highway Superintendent in 2011.

Currently, the Town Board is scanning the Suffolk County Civil Service list for engineers who qualify — a list currently with 13 names on it. Several are known to Mr. Cronin, and one known to the Island; Michael Collins works for Southold Town but has been representing this town to control tainted runoff water from reaching Peconic Bay.

Mr. Collins tops the list of candidates, having scored  well on his civil service test, with two others behind him with scores of 80 each.

At the same time, Town Board members are vetting applicants to select a highway superintendent who would start work April 1, and then stand for election in November, if he or she wanted to continue in that role.

As Mr. Cronin sees it, it’s vital that the next highway superintendent and engineer work closely together, as he and Mr. Card have. Both are charged with maintaining the town’s assets — buildings, roads and maritime structures. Working in tandem has resulted, Mr. Cronin said, in good ideas brought to bear to many situations.

Ideally, Mr. Cronin was hoping to wrap up his job in the first quarter of 2019 but has told the Town Board he would remain flexible. Still, he said he hopes a successor could be chosen before the end of the second quarter.

The man who has been an engineer for 47 years — seven as town engineer — now wants time to pursue his love of boating.

With all of the current candidates on the list from off-Island, it could be possible that Mr. Cronin might be called on in an emergency.

Mr. Cronin, who has a private consulting practice and plans to continue it, described working for the town as one of the best jobs he’s ever had. That’s because “you’re connected here,” he said,

When he and Mr. Card leave their jobs, Mr. Cronin said he’s confident the Town Board will remain dedicated to putting money where it’s needed to fix town assets that need work and to getting them on a regular maintenance schedule.

The Gary Gerth administration now has a Capital Planning/Grants Committee determined to allocate money to asset management, something that didn’t exist in the last administration. Supervisor Jim Dougherty said he didn’t want to take taxpayer money for work that wasn’t needed immediately, but preferred to depend on the town’s fund balance — unallocated money — to deal with emergencies.

Mr. Cronin said he understands that thinking, but believes it’s best to have money set aside for ongoing management of assets, since in most municipalities that’s the first item cut from budgets.

Mr. Card has appealed to the Capital Planning/Grants Committee to set aside money each year for asset management before structuring the rest of the town budget.

Mr. Cronin’s town salary has averaged $60 an hour, a seemingly reasonable amount, even though the hours would be increased for his successor. He predicted there wouldn’t be a long learning curve for a new engineer on the projects in which he has been involved.

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