Nov 07, 2011 Amanda Seef Uncategorized
Area town supervisors and the county Department of Transportation are working to plow through a bitter battle over snow removal procedures this winter on county roads.
Four towns in Onondaga County — Camillus, Clay, Manlius and Otisco — have expressed their intent not to plow county roads within their town lines, starting Dec. 1. Traditionally, the county has paid the towns a base rate for snow plowing on county roads, by town workers. An initiative by County Executive Joanie Mahoney to encourage a greater use of town highway departments county-wide has shifted the responsibility to towns. The county’s goal is to have the towns take over all county roads within town-lines.
Negotiations for plowing and ice removal services between the towns and the county DOT started earlier this year, prior to contracts ending. Traditionally, the county has reimbursed the towns for costs at a flat rate per centerline mile. A centerline mile is counted as one mile of roadway, regardless of the number of lanes. It could be two, or four lanes, and the mile would be counted the same.
Negotiations brought the total offered to the towns to $6,335 per centerline mile for the snow season, with the chance of a ‘severity’ factor. That factor comes into play should the National Weather Service register more than 151 inches at Hancock International Airport. The total, with severity factor, comes to $6,967. That’s a 7 percent increase over last year’s amount: $5,910 per centerline mile.
“What we’re all trying to accomplish is find that fair, sweet spot where we’re paying for fair, appropriate costs ,but we’re not underpaying or overpaying,” said Matt Millea, deputy county executive for physical services. “That’s a challenging task to get through.”
The majority of Onondaga County towns agreed to sign a contract for this amount — it’s revenue, town supervisors have said. But four towns, and potentially DeWitt, have not agreed to the amount and are preparing letters to town residents to alert them of the change in their snow removal providers.
“The county is absolutely prepared to plow those miles as of this week,” Millea said. “The roads will not go unplowed.”
After calculating costs incurred by plowing county roads, Manlius Town Supervisor Ed Theobald said the actual cost to some of the towns is much higher than the payment offered by the county.
“I would say they’re making money off the state and off the towns, which is really improper,” Theobald said. The state pays the county to plow state roads, as well.
The county comptroller issued a report in September stating it would be “disingenuous” for the county, or the towns, to profit off shared snowplowing services.
The amount the county offered, $6,335, was the “running average” of the county’s costs from previous years. Salt and gas are cheaper than last year and costs to plow the roads sits at about $6,200 for 2011-12.
“The $6,335 we offered follows very closely with our costs for the Onondaga County DOT,” Millea said.
The county had asked the towns that were not willing to agree to the amount offered to continue to plow the roads until Dec. 1. However, that request is now off the table.
“The towns that are backing out, they’re doing it because they don’t feel we are paying them enough,” Millea said. “If we can plow for $6,200, it’s better for the county to pay for those roads to be done, than to have the towns do it at a cost of $12,000. We need to spend more time analyzing their costs and find out what is a fair representation.”
DeWitt has not decided if they will plow after Dec. 1.
“We haven’t rejected it but we are still in conversation,” said DeWitt Town Supervisor Ed Michalenko said. “We have agreed to plow the roads for the next 30 days if the county would [compensate] us and pay us at the old rates. The snow hasn’t actually fallen yet and there is still time to get out and negotiate.”
The majority of Onondaga County towns, though, have taken the deal.
“Of our 40 roads, 17 are county,” said Marcellus Town Supervisor Dan Ross. “Most of these roads we have to go over to get to town roads, anyway. We probably break even at that number, but even if we didn’t, it’s still the most effective way to plow the roads for our residents. For us, it worked, so we took what was offered.”
Traditionally, towns have plowed more than 318 centerline miles of county roads so that county plows can focus on larger or more frequently accessed routes. Though towns are providing snow removal, the county continues to be responsible for maintenance and upkeep of the roads.
That is a major concern among supervisors, Michalenko said.
“We do a great job on our neighborhoods, and when [DeWitt] residents get out on the major collector roads, our concern is that those roads would not be adequately taken care of,” Michalenko said.
Last year, winter dropped 179 inched of snow on Syracuse, the fourth-highest total since 1950. The Farmers’ Almanac predicts the 2011-12 winter season will be snowier than average, with average temperatures.
The art of snowplowing isn’t haphazardly decided, Millea said. The switch between county and town responsibility for the roads should be seamless.
“The driving public should see very little, if any difference in the treatment of these roads,” he said. “The frequency issue is a function of snowfall and we have professionals who go out and they do assessments of roadways and plows are dispatched as needed to ensure safety of the roadway. It’s not that one snowflake falls and they go out, it’s really a professional judgment of our DOT workforce on how many runs are necessary to get those roads to a standard that we strive for.”
Negotiations for a contract will continue until all parties are satisfied with costs and responsibilities.
“We could be the ‘lone ranger’ here, we could be the only town that doesn’t plow,” Theobald said. “They could have worked with us a little more.”