Winter causing city, county snow removal headachesPublished 10:30am Thursday, March 6, 2014
Work load putting time crunch on county staff
By Jason Schoonover and Trey Mewes
Mower County’s road crew expected to wake up to snow Wednesday morning — just not more than 10 inches of it.
“Waking up to 10 to 12 [inches] instead of 2 to 5 is a little bit of a surprise,” Mower County Public Works Director Mike Hanson said Wednesday.
That’s nothing new this winter, as Hanson confirmed county road crews are enduring one of their busiest seasons in 10 to 15 years with several cases of snow, high winds and bitter cold.
Despite the busy times, there’s little risk of the county running out of salt mixture for roads. The county still has 200 tons of road salt left, which is mixed with things like sand to make five to six times that amount.
Austin Public Works Director Steven Lang said city workers have used more than 6,000 tons of salt/sand mixture on the roads thus far this winter, much higher than the normal 4,000 to 4,500 tons city officials use during a winter season. Tuesday’s snowstorm also caused city workers to remove snow overnight on Wednesday. It will be tough to tell how much more than usual the city is spending on salt and sand as the city’s fiscal budget year goes from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, changing in the middle of winter.
With the extra work, time is becoming an issue for county staff. Hanson told the county board Tuesday several of his employees have more than 100 banked hours. Banked hours, as opposed to overtime, are typically balanced by giving employees time off when the workload is light. However, Hanson and county leaders will discuss what to did this year with the abnormal amount of banked time. Work in the office won’t stop once the snow melts, as crews will then shift their focus to road repairs and other duties.
“There are better times than others to use the bank hours and take time off,” Hanson said.
City of Austin employees may have been out on the roads more this winter, but they’ve usually been able to clean up snow during regular hours. At least, before the blizzard that took place last month.
That blizzard and Tuesday’s snowstorm cause more overnight snow removals, which has caused more overtime hours for city employees, according to Lang.
“I would say crews are starting to build some comp hours, but because of how the winter started, I don’t think we are at an exorbitant quantity of comp hours yet,” he said.
In some cases, the county has had to hire outside help. The county hired contractors to widen drifts in some problem areas, something the Minnesota Department of Transportation has done, too.
Even with extra banked time, Hanson assured crews will be out whenever necessary.
“We’re not going stop trying to serve the public,” Hanson said.
The heavy winter doesn’t have county leaders looking to any drastic changes like buying a new plow or hiring more employees, as next year’s winter could be light or average.
“There’s always going to be a year that’s worse than others,” Hanson said.