Happy to continue serving community
KITTERY, Maine — Norm Albert has literally come up through the ranks of the Kittery Department of Public Works. Hired as a driver/laborer in 1988, Albert was tapped recently by Town Manager Nancy Colbert Puff to be the department’s new commissioner.
“It’s rewarding,” he admits, to now manage a department to which he has given much of his working life.
“I enjoy the people who work with me, and the challenge of the job,” Albert said. “And I love the people of Kittery. I have a really good relationship with them, and I think it’s easy for them to talk with me.”
Albert has done just about all the jobs at the DPW over the years. A construction worker who still builds houses on the side, he was promoted to equipment operator in the mid 90s and then to foreman in 2001. He held that job until Colbert Puff named him commissioner last month.
He oversees a staff of 18 full-time and up to 24 seasonal workers and a budget of just over $2.1 million, and is responsible for the highway department, the town’s resource recovery operation and town parks.
He has been interim commissioner since Mary Ann Conroy left last August, a job he held before Conroy was hired, as well. “So, yes, I could have retired in two more years, but now that I’m here, I will stay a little longer.”
He has walked into a challenging job at a challenging time for his department, he said. The municipal budget has been flat funded or seen modest growth since the recession in 2008 — a situation he feels must soon change.
“For five years, there’s been no money for paving” town roads. “To me, the town is going to pay sooner or later, and it will cost them more later,” he said. “We get a lot of calls for potholes, but all we can do is patch them.”
He is also concerned about the salt pile heading into next winter. “We had $28 left over for salt” in the budget line, he said, after this past winter. “The shed’s a quarter full. Last year, we started out with three-quarters in the salt shed.”
If the coming winter is mild, “we’ll be okay. But if it’s not …” he said.
On the positive side, he said he’s hoping in the near future to be able to get a new bailer at the transfer station. The machine would allow the town to make money by taking in paper and cardboard from neighboring communities.
“It would be a way to be more profitable up there,” he said.
Because he’s worked for the DPW for so long, with many years of them as foreman, he said he’s used to working on budgets. “It’s not like I walked in here blind. It can be a challenge, but I’ve learned how to do it,” he said.
He said it’s very satisfying to be at the helm of the town’s DPW after so many years. He said he’s received many cards and e-mails of support from residents, and said he was particularly gratified when, on the night of the Town Council meeting when his appointment was announced, “the people in the room clapped. A lot of people were pushing for me,” he said.
And he’s prepared to serve the town well, he said.
“We’re not afraid to do anything that’s thrown at us, as long as we are given the tools to do it,” he said.