Storms, cutbacks lead to headaches

The city Streets and Parks Department is down by five staffers. While the department head is claiming the city doesn’t have enough manpower, the mayor is saying he does not plan to fill one of two vacancies despite a number of phone calls to the city during the winter storms in the past several weeks and delays in getting snow cleared.

Besides the two vacancies, three other department members are out sick because of surgeries, William C. Wright, general manager of the department, told City Council’s public works committee this week.

After the meeting, Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said he does not plan to replace one of those vacancies.

In Campana’s original budget, which was presented to city council, the mayor said he would remove two positions from the department, bringing the complement down to 26. However, council voted to change Campana’s budget by transferring money to keep an employee in the department and eliminate one position. Council wanted 27 employees, Campana said.

Asked what he planned to do with the $50,000 by not filling one of the vacancies, Campana said he was going to put it toward next year’s budget.

“This is probably the worst situation I’ve seen,” Wright told the committee.

“I believe we have a sufficient amount of personnel in that department,” Campana said. “There may be retirees and hires, but my position is there will be 26 employees in the department.”

Of the three plowable snows this year, the city has paid 467 hours of overtime, Wright said.

Wright estimated when storms cause plowable snow, the cost is about $1,200 per hour to the city and $1,800 per hour should overtime be necessary.

The committee along with the finance committee have authorized the department to purchase a 2012 pickup truck with an attached plow. The cost of the truck is $27,982, and it will be used to access alleys during winter storms.

Councilwoman Bonnie Katz, a downtown merchant who is on public works committee, said she heard numerous complaints from merchants and shoppers during the snowstorms because the snow is pushed up to the curb and not cleared.

Wright said he would ask people to understand the plow truck operator must get the main course done first and then go back and remove the snow that is pushed back to the curb.

Wright said a snowblower on front of a loader is used to deposit the snow into dump trucks downtown. When a part broke on that machine, it was taken to a local company to get repaired because the parts are rare and new parts are more costly,” he said.

During storms on the week of Dec. 26, Wright said the streets department was inundated with telephone calls about a lack of snow removal, most of them related to clearing alleys.

“We had 91 recordings on Dec. 26,” he said. “Most of the complaints were alleys, and the next day it was worse.”

The city has 50 miles of alleys, he said.