Jim LaCarrubba, commissioner of the city’s Department of Public Works, who played a lead role in the city’s recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy, is leaving his position at the end of the month, City Manager Jack Schnirman announced at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The search for a replacement is under way.
“I just wanted to … acknowledge the absolutely incredible job Commissioner LaCarrubba has done the last four and a half years,” Schnirman said. “Before the storm, in helping us when we were on the brink of bankruptcy and getting the Army Corps of Engineers project jump-started right away, in his first month, in March of 2012, and of course after the storm, with all his incredible efforts in rebuilding our city and our infrastructure the right way, and working hand in hand with our workforce along the way.”
LaCarrubba, a former deputy highway superintendent for the Town of Brookhaven, was hired in 2012 after the Democratic administration took control of City Hall, at a starting salary of $130,000 — $17,000 less than former DPW Commissioner Kevin Mulligan. LaCarrubba, who oversees a 200-man workforce, was set to make $160,000 for fiscal 2016-17, according to the city’s budget.
“There have been some opportunities that have come up for me that allow me to be closer to home and spend more time with my family,” LaCarrubba said, declining to offer any further details. “The thing I’m most proud of is, obviously, the way we were able to recover from the storm, both in the rebuilding of infrastructure and confidence in the city. This is such a strong community, and it really showed. From the way the city looked in March of 2012 to the way it looks today speaks for itself. I really worked hard to get Public Works to work as one cohesive unit, and I think we’ve done a good job.”
Not even a year into the job, LaCarrubba faced the biggest challenge of his career when Sandy hit, causing an estimated $200 million in damage and destroying the city’s iconic 2.2-mile boardwalk and other facilities.
Among the efforts he led in the aftermath of the storm was the construction of the new boardwalk, which features a more resilient, low-maintenance tropical hardwood with a 30- to 40-year lifespan. The $42 million project was completed on time and under budget, officials said, and the boardwalk has since been further improved with concessions and other amenities.
Other projects that were completed or begun during LaCarrubba’s tenure include the rebuilding of parks and playgrounds throughout the city; the construction of a new 15,000-square-foot skate park at the city’s Recreation Center, a $300,000 facility that opened last September; a new dog run on Magnolia Boulevard, which was finished earlier this year; a number of road repaving and reconstruction projects; millions of dollars’ worth of improvements and upgrades to the water and sewer systems; and the replanting of 3,100 trees after Sandy.
“Jim has been such an incredible asset to this city …,” said City Councilwoman Eileen Goggin. “You’re one of the hardest-working persons I know, you’re one of the brightest persons, and you care about the city, you care about the administration, and most importantly, you care about the residents …”
LaCarrubba most recently floated a $10 million, five-year capital improvement plan that includes continued road reconstruction, the replacement of tide flex valves, a number of streetscape initiatives and the design and permitting process for federal- and state-funded bulkhead projects along Reynolds Channel.
LaCarrubba said that the DPW was spending $17 million per year when he arrived, a total that has not increased despite contractual raises and other increased costs over the past four years. “We’ve been able to hold the line on spending and provide a level of service that is higher than when I arrived,” he said. “The administration — we had a clear goal, and part of the directive I’ve been given was, let’s get this place back on track and improve the quality of life for residents. We put a plan together year after year, and we’ve been implementing it. And the city now is on a good trajectory.”
City Council President Len Torres presented a proclamation to LaCarrubba at the meeting, and said it was a “sad day” to see him leave. “Over the past few years, since Hurricane Sandy, all of us have become very close with Jim LaCarrubba,” Torres said. “I’ll never forget that during the storm, Jim stayed here in this building with us from one day to another and did not go home. I have to say that I was amazed with the resolve, the kind of stamina that this man showed us, and his ability to organize people to get the job done.”
LaCarrubba’s last day as commissioner is Sept. 2, but he said that he would work with the city on a part-time basis to help facilitate the Army Corps project — the rehabilitation of jetties and the building of dunes that extend along seven miles of shoreline from East Rockaway Inlet to Jones Inlet — as well as bulkheading projects slated for the north side of the city.
“All of the big stuff I’ve been involved with since the beginning,” he said. “There’s a big part of me that’s still here — I’m attached to the city. Sandy really connected me to this city in a way that you can’t separate, and there will always be a piece of me that’s here.”