So long, Joe

Photo by Mookie Forcella

“He that can work is a born king of something.”

-Thomas Carlyle

Like a colossus in blue Dickey’s, water department superintendent Joe Bisignano has bestrode two distinct eras in small-town municipal water stewardship. In his 32 years with the department, he’s seen infrastructure improvements take us from 19th-century technology to the computer age. But now he’s retiring.

“It’s been great working here,” Bisignano said at the Sept. 19 Village Board meeting.


During his time at the helm of the water department, the village installed a 3-million gallon holding tank in 1999. The tank helps maintain water pressure in the lines and provides water when the treatment plant has to shut down due to turbid water, as it did during Tropical Storm Irene, when Muck and silt washed down out of the mountain and threatened to clog screens and pumps at the plant forcing workers to shut everything down and use water stored in the tank to serve customers.

“Before we had the tank, if something broke, we had two hours to get it fixed or water delivery would stop,” he said.

Bisignano oversaw upgrades in the ’70s, when the village relined its two major water mains, which had been installed in the 1880s and 1930s, thereby reducing leaks. Further changes involving computerized meter-reading and billing were made in 2000 and 2002.

During his tenure as superintendent, the village has installed an additional 30 water mains, Bisignano said.

“I’ve known this man for more than 25 years,” said Mayor William Murphy. “It’s because of people like you,” Murphy told Bisignano, “that I wanted to get involved with public service.”

“I will miss you very, very much,” said Village Clerk Mary Frank.

Bisignano came to Saugerties at age 29 after having worked with the Westchester County Joint Water Works. During his time in Saugerties, he attended a police academy and also served for 23 years as a part-time police officer in the village, while continuing his duties as waster department superintendent.

Former water department worker William Holden retired in 2007 but still helps out at the plant. He remembers when Bisignano came onboard as the superintendent of the water department.

“He was younger than most of the other superintendents that I worked for and it was that youth that helped bring needed changes,” Holden said. “He brought new blood and new ideas.”

“We were the first water department in the area to get computerized,” Holden added.

And even though they are about the same age, mid-60s, Holden said that he and Bisignano had an almost father/son relationship, with Bisignano teaching Holden new ways to do things.

“He was a good boss and took care of his workers, although it wasn’t always roses,” Holden said with a laugh.

Former Village Mayor Bob Yerick, who worked with Bisignano for the 14 years he served as mayor, remembers how he used to “bust Joe’s chops from time to time…but he gave as good as he got,” Yerick laughed. “He was always very professional and was really good under pressure.”

No matter how big a problem, such as a water main break, Bisignano would be on top of it, calm and get it taken care of, Yerick said.

“He was good at all things, and he got many, many things accomplished,” Yerick said. “I just can’t say enough good words about Joe.”

While Bisignano is retiring as superintendent of the water department, he will continue to be the village’s justice court’s bailiff.

And there is no way his wife, Landi will be letting him hang out around the house during his retirement. “She doesn’t want me underfoot,” Bisignano said.

So to keep himself busy, Bisignano will restore antique cars, trucks, and motorcycles he has. “I’ll also be around to help out down at the water plant if they need me,” he said.

Michael Hopf will take over as the new village water department superintendent.