News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

City of Sisters Public Works crew keeps city rolling

It’s 1 a.m., and there is a big windstorm coming down off the mountains, whipping the trees and power lines back and forth. Without warning, a large ponderosa tree on the south side of town is blown down across the street and lands on a homeowner’s car. The City of Sisters Public Works crew is there within a matter of minutes, removing the tree. Just as quickly, for safety’s sake, they are gone.

One of the best-kept secrets in town is the City’s Public Works headquarters and shop located down at the end of South Locust Street, behind a modest gate. Public Works truly is the heart of the city, keeping all the systems running smoothly — water, sewer/wastewater, parks, streets, recycling center and maintenance of all the City’s equipment. They are responsible for all of the City’s infrastructure and assets, which most of us take for granted — until something unexpected happens like a huge wind or snowstorm.

Public Works Director Paul Bertagna and Project Manager Troy Rayburn shepherd a cadre of six dedicated members out at the Locust Street shop, providing guidance, based on City Council direction, in the form of goals and department workplans which are updated regularly. Bertagna and Rayburn act as liaisons between City Hall and the public to the six-person crew handling projects and maintenance.

Additional support comes from two contract employees. Eric Huffman serves as the city engineer and Dan Galecki is the urban forester, monitoring the health of the city’s “urban forest” growing in public rights-of-way and parks and advising the Urban Forestry Board.

Bertagna has high praise for his crew. Each crew member possesses multiple skills, making it possible for a crew of six to accomplish work that would normally require a much larger staff. Bertagna said they all know how to pour concrete and weld.

“The Public Works crew members love their jobs,” Bertagna said. “They look at their jobs with the City as their careers.” Bertagna added they all live in Sisters and are on call 24/7, 365 days a year. “We are ready to go at a moment’s notice.”

Gus Johnson, crew and maintenance supervisor, came to the City from Black Butte Ranch seven years ago with 25 years of experience in golf-course maintenance. It is no coincidence that the lawns in the City parks look like green velvet.

“Gus runs the maintenance department like a golf course, with park lawns mowed every four days during the growing season, each time mowed in a different direction,” Bertagna said.

Josh Stotts, the longest-serving employee at 17 years, is the lead water operator, as well as lead fabricator. Stotts welds all the decorative tops on the waste receptacles around town, as well as park benches and bike racks. He also makes maintenance repairs on all the City’s rigs.

Doug McIntosh, wastewater operator and lead equipment operator, has worked for the City for 13 years keeping everything moving. At one point in his career in Sisters, he attended diesel mechanic school, after which he also became the lead mechanic.

Four-year employee Todd Milburn used to work for a private utility in Washington before coming to Sisters. He started out as a seasonal worker only to be hired full-time for park maintenance and mowing.

Travis Quimby came to Sisters Public Works two years ago from Tigard to work in the stormwater division, as well as herbicide spraying. He brought his certifications in spraying with him from Tigard.

Jackson Dumanch, the newest employee at one year, also came out of the Public Works’ seasonal program, which Bertagna describes as a six-month job interview which allows him to observe the worker’s skills and dependability and how he/she interacts with the rest of the crew. Bertagna describes Dumanch as “a nice young guy who is learning on the job and is a really, really hard worker.”

Robin Bentz, who retired from Public Works after 17 years, will be back for the summer to work her magic on all the hanging pots and planted bulb-outs around town.

Bertagna will have been with the City for 20 years come this March. He was originally hired by then Public Works Director Gary Frazee to run the wastewater plant. The sewage treatment plant was under construction at the time and a majority of the sewer lines were installed throughout town.

Bertagna recalls that The Gallery Restaurant was the first customer to use the sewer line. They had been on a septic system that was located under their back parking lot, which had to be dug up about every five years for maintenance.

When Frazee retired, Bertagna was made the Public Works project coordinator under Brad Grimm.

“Brad taught me a lot,” Bertagna said. “He sent me to an 18-month project-management school over in the valley where I learned how to manage big projects.”

Rayburn joined the Public Works staff a year-and-a-half ago as project coordinator, bringing his experience from several resort towns in Colorado and the City of Redmond to his current position.

“Troy has taken our public noticing to another level,” said Bertagna. “He coordinates with all the downtown businesses regarding snow removal and street maintenance. We have really upped our game since Troy’s arrival.

“We take a lot of pride in our town because we live here, our families are raised here, our kids go to school here,” Bertagna said. “We treat it like our own. Our job is to provide consistency of services to our residents. We really work for the citizens and we take our work seriously. Our phones are always on and we’re always around town.”

Bertagna encourages residents to stop and talk with the Public Works crew when they see them out on the streets of Sisters.


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