City street crews shifted to staggered schedules for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as they continued their fight against an ice-heavy storm that swept through over the weekend.
Joe Pajor, deputy director of public works and utilities for the city, said his crews are gearing down after a week’s work preparing for and handling about six inches of snow that fell over the weekend, preceded by ice and sleet.
That wraps up four days of what the city calls “emergency snow removal shifts” – two 12-hour shifts involving a little more than 50 people – that began Friday night as the storm began to roll in.
“We maintained that until this morning, but we’ve started staggering shifts in anticipation of a window here,” Pajor said. “The weather won’t be perfect, but it looks somewhat cooperative, so for the holidays we’ll have some people on call part of this evening, tomorrow and tomorrow night.”
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Money for snow removal won’t be an immediate problem, Pajor said: The city begins a new budget year on Jan. 1 and the city has just over $366,000 left in a budget of more than $1.2 million.
Salt is a bigger worry, Pajor said, especially given the large “geographic size” of some of the winter storms that have spread across the country this year. Salt can be in short supply when several municipalities are forced to use large portions of their supplies at once.
“We have about 50 percent of capacity of salt and sand stored up,” he said. “Sand isn’t an issue. It’s the salt.”
The city has a contract with Cornejo & Sons to provide sand and do the salt mixing, Pajor said. The city uses its own salt to mix the brine that gets sprayed on city streets as preventative work – a job that began a week ago with with some of the city’s regular public works staff, who left the jobs they’d be doing in dry weather to join the snow crew.
“These are folks who’d regularly be sweeping streets, things like that,” Pajor said.
The city’s annual snow and ice budget, about $560,000 in 2014-15 to meet historic snow removal needs, Pajor said, covers the salt, sand and brine and the costs of city equipment, such as new blades for plows and repair on the spreaders. Regular-time labor costs are assessed to the individual pieces of the public works budget, like streets, sewers, that supply the workers. Overtime costs, such as the bill incurred last weekend for the emergency shifts, are assessed to the snow and ice budget.
Even though next year’s snow removal budget is less than half of 2013, Pajor said the city is committed to clearing streets and will “match the budget to whatever the needs are.”