By David Skolnick
City officials will re-evaluate snow-removal procedures after receiving criticism for how they were handled during a recent storm.
But the best solutions are newer trucks and hiring more employees to plow, which aren’t likely to happen because of the city’s struggling financial situation, said Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works.
Last year’s general-fund budget had $50,000 in it for equipment purchases at the street department, and a new snowplow vehicle costs about $190,000, Shasho said.
The discussion on snow- removal problems happened at a Thursday meeting of city council’s safety committee.
When the meeting ended, Jim Mamonis, a 32-year street department worker who was in attendance, shouted at council members that they didn’t understand the real problems with the department.
“You’re so disconnected,” he said to the council members.
Mamonis said the department is using trucks as old as 30 years, and they’re breaking down. If there was another snowstorm a day or two later, “we would have never been able” to plow the streets because too many trucks stopped working, he said.
The problems, he said, should have been addressed 15 to 20 years ago, he said.
“You need vehicles and more men,” Mamonis said.
Council members said they didn’t disagree and would try to work to improve operations at the street department.
Shasho wants the city to consider a program to replace a truck every year while recognizing the financial problems.
The city has 16 snowplows, but only 13 were able to be used during the last snowstorm, Shasho said, and when the plowing was done, there were only nine trucks that could operate. The street department had each driver on 12-hour shifts during the storm.
Each driver is given an assignment sheet with a list of streets, with main streets and then secondary streets they are supposed to plow during the shift, Shasho said.
He said the city is going to “tweak the routes, but I don’t think it will do much because it’s more of an issue of resources.”
Council members said they received numerous calls during and after the storm that the side streets were largely or completely ignored by street department snowplows.
Shasho said the city should consider retrofitting water department trucks to be used for plowing when needed and suggested council pass an ordinance allowing him or the mayor to declare an emergency and have city workers who are licensed to drive those retrofitted trucks as plows.
He acknowledged that union negotiations would be needed for the latter proposal to work.
Councilwoman Lauren McNally, D-5th, suggested the city use seasonal employees for snow removal like it does during the summer for grass cutting. Shasho said the seasonal workers likely don’t have licenses to drive plows.
McNally also suggested the city use money from speed-camera fines to buy street department vehicles.
“We have an obligation to keep our streets safe,” she said.
Councilwoman Anita Davis, D-6th, who got her car stuck in the snow during last week’s storm, said many of the complaints she received were from people upset with the time it took to plow streets.
She wants the city administration to look at the cost of putting GPS on snowplows so people can see if the vehicles are out and where they’ve been.
“It will restore the confidence people have in our plowing system,” Davis said.