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Relentless winter taxes city, county budgets

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By Nick Johansen

 

The Montgomery County Secondary Roads Department and the City of Red Oak remain vigilant in efforts to keep roads clean in the wake of over a dozen significant snow and ice events in the city and county.

County engineer Brad Skinner said his department is beginning to feel the crunch when it comes to the cost of clearing county roads of snow multiple times in recent months.

“We will know in a week or so exactly where we are with month end reports, but based upon payroll alone, I am sure we have exceeded the annual snow removal budget,” Skinner said.

According to Skinner, his department is looking to cut expenses in other areas to make up for the added increases in the snow removal budget.

“We have decided to delay equipment purchases and probably two small bridge replacements to offset the additional snow removal expenses. We will adjust to keep within our total department budget without an amendment to increase total expenditures if at all possible. Delayed projects or purchases will be addressed as possible in future years,” commented Skinner.

The secondary roads department has experienced over 500 hours of overtime from Feb. 10 through the 23. Skinner said employees have the option of accumulating comp time up to 80 hours each, or taking the overtime pay.

“Most field personnel have maxed out their comp time, so going forward we will see the overtime paid. The larger impact to the budget will be yet to come. The impact of the comp time accumulation will be field staff taking time off in warm weather months, which will limit our ability to perform some future maintenance tasks. Either way, there will be the additional expense of overtime or contractors assisting with patching, pipe work, etc. in the summer,” commented Skinner.

Also, Skinner said, the stress of extra hours and working in the conditions is building on everyone dealing with snow, and public employees are no exception.

“We are taking steps to keep our operators safe, while getting the roads covered as quickly as we can. After a snowfall, our employees work 12 to 14 hour shifts until we have all residents access to the main roads. We then follow with widening out roads to two lanes and shoulder clearing during normal work hours. This winter we have spent more days on the overtime status than regular hours,” said Skinner. “The thank yous we have seen on social media, and well wishes like the “care packages” we received from Stanton seventh graders have been morale boosters. We understand the frustrations some voice with the wait to get their roads cleared, but we all need to realize the snow totals we have had this years are breaking records throughout the midwest, and Montgomery County is no exception.”

In addition to the stress of the long hours, the numerous instances of being on the roadways to clear snow, and likely fatigue, have also led to an uptick in minor accidents involving the county’s snow removal vehicles.

“There is no doubt fatigue adds to the potential for accidents. While seasoned drivers and new drivers have been involved in accidents this winter, through February, all damages from accidents have been minor. We have had several minor damage incidents to our trucks and equipment, some from trying to do too much in limited visibility, some with inexperienced operators, since we have had little snow over the past six or seven years, and some from dealing with snow piles left on the roads by residents or contractors,” Skinner said. “The trucks in ditches have led to minor damage that have kept trucks off the road less than a day. Our maintainers have not been damaged other than from hitting hard snow piles left by others in the ROW. Our total internal damages costs are less than towing expenses to get the trucks back on the roads. So, to date, we are fortunately doing ok with equipment, but general wear and tear is obviously more than a normal winter. We will know more when we do the next major service on each machine or truck.”

On the city side of things, Red Oak city administrator Brad Wright said snow removal is budgeted differently than it is for the county.

“The amount the city specifically budgets for “snow removal” is actually what we spend on sand and salt.  We stock up on this prior to the winter season.  We have certainly gone through more this year than we do in a typical year, but still have an adequate supply,” said Wright.

Wright said the rest of the expense comes in the way of vehicle expense, including fuel, maintenance, repairs, and labor costs. 

“Vehicle expense is naturally running ahead of where we would like it to be for this time of the year. While there has obviously been a great deal of overtime worked in dealing with the snows that we have had, our departments do an excellent job of trying to manage that,” said Wright.  “We do so through the use of “compensatory time” to the degree possible.  This means that we give employees additional time off from work in lieu of additional pay.  The challenge with a year like this is there hasn’t been much time in between storms to allow employees to take the time off, therefore we have had to pay out more overtime than we like to.  The City has extremely dedicated employees and is lucky in that all departments work incredibly well together.  There are great savings and efficiencies found in interdepartmental collaboration.  Snow removal efforts include employees from the departments of Street, Water, Sewer, Parks, Cemetery, and Airport.  Things would not work as well as they do without the cooperation of all those involved.”

 

Still, Wright said, the city crews, like most everybody else, are certainly ready for an improvement in the weather. 

“They have put in an incredible amount of time, working all hours of the night to try and have the snow removed before most people have to get out and about.  Depending upon the timing and the duration of the snow event, sometimes that is more difficult than others. Citizens cooperation with moving their vehicles off the streets aides greatly in the snow removal process,” commented Wright.