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February 27, 2014 8:23 am

EDITORIAL: City must deal with snow and ice on weekends

Written by Tom Lawrence

Weather doesn’t hold to a schedule.

Snow and ice can and do land at any time of the day and on any day of the week. That has been particularly evident this winter, as Powell’s streets have been clogged with thick white powder time and time again.

That’s why we think the city of Powell needs to rethink its policy of only plowing and sanding during the work week. For the most part, city workers only deal with snow, ice and slippery roads Monday through Friday, holidays not included.

Most of that work is done during normal business hours, although a city worker does begin sanding operations starting at 3:30 a.m. on weekdays, if needed. Public Works Director Gary Butts tells us the city will no longer pay overtime to his crew, so he has little choice in the matter.

“The lack of revenue and funding created the cuts,” Butts said in an email. “It was brought forth during budget discussions last year, so all were involved, but the clock has been ticking a long time.”

It is not a reaction to the rejection of a proposed 1-cent tax in Park County, he said. However, Butts also said when the tax was defeated, “steps needed to be taken to conserve funds. Overtime was one of those steps.

“We have tried to adjust as best as possible by keeping the timeframe without sanding from 4 p.m. Friday afternoon to 3:30 a.m. Monday morning,” he said. “If the last two storms had not hit on the weekend it would not have been as noticeable.”

But the point is, they did. The storms did pelt ice and snow on Powell during the hours when our city crews were not working to clear the streets. Access from South Fair Street to Coulter Avenue was closed Saturday because of slick conditions and not reopened until Monday.

Police Chief Roy Eckerdt noted he could not call out a sander truck to make the intersection less slippery, so after an officer who was responding to a crash there Saturday saw multiple vehicles slide through, it was closed. That is simply unacceptable.

We feel a different plan is needed. Here is our suggestion.

One or two Streets Department workers should be on call each week. With six staffers assigned to clear streets, it could rotate so no one is on call on a regular basis.

Since weekend storms are not the norm, there may be some years when no one is called out. But in case it does happen, having a plan in place seems to be a wise move.

The employee(s) on call would work on Saturday or Sunday to clear streets, drop some sand or do what is needed to ensure to the best of their ability that our streets are not slick and unsafe. To avoid overtime, that worker or workers could have another day off the week before or after the storm strikes.

A lot of companies do this kind of scheduling. News, like storms, also does not happen just during the daylight hours of Monday through Friday. Here at the Tribune, we cover events, including meetings, sporting events, vehicle crashes and other matters, during nights and weekends.

Workers shift their schedules to allow for that. We have plans in place to make sure we have people where they are needed when they are needed. Numerous other businesses do similar things — and the Powell Police Department adjusts its schedule as needed to cover events.

The city Street Department can and should do the same.

Butts was asked about this approach, but he noted “Saturday and Sunday are not normal work days,” and said it’s not a good option.

“If I use a crew member for another day and then he is not available to help in clean-up when we need him we are slowed down,” he said. “If one is sick and another away because he was working another day, we would be hard pressed to get anything cleaned up. In short, moving someone’s schedule around would actually hurt, not help, in the snow removal and sanding process.”

He noted that he and the shop mechanic can also help clear streets as needed. That’s commendable, and we do not mean this in any way to be an attack on the people who do the work needed to clear our streets. We appreciate their efforts, but feel they may have to work a few weekend hours from time to time.

We think Mayor Don Hillman, the Powell City Council, City Administrator Zane Logan and the city staff can put their heads together and come up with a plan that does not entail overtime and still keeps streets clear, intersections open and people driving through Powell safe.

This long winter is nearly over, so no change is expected now. But in the coming warmer months, a plan can and should be created to ensure when snow and ice land next winter, they are dealt with at that time, not a day or two later.

3 comments

  • Comment Link February 27, 2014 1:18 pm posted by Melissa

    And once again, it looks like we are going to get hit with a good amount of snow this coming weekend.

  • Comment Link February 27, 2014 5:17 pm posted by DK

    If the streets are slick and nasty, and creating a safety hazard, they need to be cleared, even on the weekends. With the shoddy job they do, even on the weekdays, the intersections would be better if everyone had a bag of sand and gravel on their seats and they chucked a handful out the window.

  • Comment Link March 12, 2014 8:47 am posted by clipstein

    Yes and interesting to watch the show on bent st. how they did everything they could try to hurt one business that opened at 5 a.m. and provided a service to the people and tourist. now you can watch karma.

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