Warm winter reroutes work, saves moneyMost cities in western Wisconsin plan on lots of snow each winter. So what happens when the flakes don’t fall?
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
Most cities in western Wisconsin plan on lots of snow each winter. So what happens when the flakes don’t fall?
According to Director of Public Works/City Engineer Reid Wronski, Public Works Street Supervisor Terry Kusilek and Finance Director Julie Bergstrom, the city saves money and works on other projects.
Wronski and Bergstrom said last week that the dollar-amount difference between last winter’s snow-removal costs and this year already stands at about $100,000.
Bergstrom said last winter’s snow-removal budget was $210,000. She said the city spent about $25,000 on snow-removal in December 2011 and about $95,000 in 2010.
The saved money goes into the city’s general fund. It can be used for other needs. Bergstrom says in this case, the money will be applied toward debt.
Budgeting for winter is tricky, especially since the city must predict salt needs during the middle of summer.
Wronski said about the salt, “There have been shortages over the past few years.”
Bergstrom said the city starts by figuring a 10-year snowfall average, then factors in other items in the budget, like snow-equipment repair, overtime costs for any “full-response” snow events and vehicle fuel.
Wronski said the city doesn’t declare snow emergencies like some other cities. It has the odd-even parking rules to keep snowplowing on schedule.
Wronski said the lack of snow doesn’t affect the workforce size, only the type of work being doing.
He said the contractors who plow routes north and east of the city do not work when there isn’t snow, but the city employees stay busy either way.
The director said the city plans for everyone on the crew of nine public works employees to work eight hours a day year round.
When they don’t have to be out plowing, a long list of maintenance items keeps them busy.
“We’ve not had a chance to get the tree trimming done in the past several years,” Wronski said, citing the long-lasting snow and cold of recent winters.
He said this year’s warmth has enabled the city to get nearly caught up on tree-trimming work.
Crews have completed trimming in about half the city, which Kusilek says is about three times the “normal” amount.
He and Wronski acknowledge that not all residents appreciate the tree work but says it’s essential for business as well as the health of trees.
The trimming makes way for snow plows, street sweepers, delivery vehicles and big trucks.
Wronski clarifies that any trees growing into a public right-of-way get trimmed -- over the street, into alleyways, across road signs, in a line of sight, over the mailbox.
He said before crews start tree-trimming work in a neighborhood, they notify residents days before with a door hanger at each house.
Another job keeping the public works crew is a federal mandate about road signs.
By 2015, they must all meet the new standard for higher reflectivity, so public works crews must check each of the city’s thousands of signs for compliance.
One of the crew members has been working nights and rating each sign’s condition as good, fair or critical. Any signs rated ‘critical’ will be replaced.
“We’re assessing one-third of the town this year,” Kusilek said.
Public Works also helps with various maintenance projects, such as a new drain in the public works’ garage area and minor building repairs and maintenance at any city buildings.
Kusilek said on the few bitterly cold days this year, crew did necessary painting and re-arranging in parts of the Public Works building.
This year, River Falls has already run its street sweeper a few times and is nearly finished with its preseason mower maintenance.
He said the crew tries to stay 2-3 months ahead in readying whatever equipment will be needed for the next season.