WARSAW – Scott Tilden’s 39-year career in road maintenance began the day after he graduated from Tippecanoe Valley High School in 1980.
The Akron native started out with a part-time summer job with the Fulton County Highway Department and was hired as a truck driver by the end of the summer.
Tilden, who still lives outside of Akron, worked for 27 years with the Fulton County Highway Department, including 14 as superintendent, before being lured away to work for the Kosciusko County department 12 years ago.
But this month, Tilden, 58, is preparing to put the brakes on his career and change gears after Dec. 31 as he retires from the Kosciusko County Highway Department, where he’s been superintendent for nine years.
Tilden said he’s looking forward to relaxing and maybe doing some lawncare work while he continues to care for the 14-acre Akron Cemetery that he’s maintained since 1989.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and it has a toll on you,” Tilden said earlier this week.
His role with Kosciusko County started out as a sign technician, but he was promoted to superintendent after three years and eventually began undertaking a new approach at the department.
County Commissioner Brad Jackson praised Tilden’s role as a superintendent and said he excelled in working with the public and improving the department while being frugal with tax dollars. From his perspective as a commissioner for 23 years, Jackson said he considers Tilden to be the best superintendent the county has employed in a long time.
Tilden’s biggest effort focused on improving road conditions and was able to do so after County Council established a wheel tax that increased the amount of money available to the department by an estimated $2 million per year.
The tax was implemented in 2015 and officials quickly put the money to work as the number of improved road miles increased significantly from about 50 miles a year to well above 100 miles per year.
The influx in money for roads came at a time when Tilden said he believed the county was seriously falling behind in maintaining roads. At one point, some roads, he said, had not seen any improvements in 30 years. They’re now attempting to make sure every road sees necessary improvements at least every 12 years or so.
Four years of increased paving and repairs, he said, has put the 1,163 miles road system in a much better position.
“It’s been tremendous for our paving,” Tilden said. “Easily, we’ve increased our paving and chip seal by 60 to 70 percent.”
He’s pleased with the more aggressive approach to road maintenance.
Realistically, Tilden admits its impossible to ever be entirely caught up in maintaining all roads, “but we’re making really good progress.”
“I’m very proud of that. We’re gonna keep doing that. That’s our No. 1 goal,” Tilden said.
He said he’s also put an emphasis on restocking the department’s fleet of vehicles. At one point, he said, the department went nearly five years without replacing a vehicle. Some of the remaining vehicles are from the 1980s.
In recent years, they’ve been replacing two or three a year.
But the most noticeable change in recent years is the $3.2 million upgrade to buildings at the department’s home along Old Road 30 east of Warsaw.
The department now has a spacious 8,200 square-foot office building that replaced the old cramped office, which is now used for storage. Staff moved into the new office in May of this year.
A wash bay for vehicles was constructed on one end of the existing garage and a bituminous patch bay was constructed on the other side so that the material is not exposed to the weather.
The department also now has a large parts supply area that is ten times bigger than the previous one.
Despite the new accommodations, Tilden said he knew the time was right to step down.
Tilden said he was told once that the average span of a highway superintendent is about seven years. Combined with both counties, Tilden will step away with 23 years in the leadership position.
The county has already decided that Steve Moriarty, who works as assistant superintendent, will step in to replace Tilden.
“I’ve done it for a long time and am going to leave it in good hands with somebody who cares and will do a good job,” Tilden said.