By LIZ BUTTON
One of the biggest challenges any new mayor faces is dealing with snow removal, according to Rye’s new mayor, Joe Sack. This is especially true during a bad winter.
In order to ensure Rye residents make it through the remainder of the winter season, the City Council authorized City Manager Scott Pickup, at its Jan. 29 meeting, to transfer $50,000 from the city’s 2014 contingency fund to the Department of Public Works budget to replenish the city’s salt stores.
DPW workers sprinkle salt on the roads to melt snow and ice.
According to Pickup, the city has experienced about eight snow events that required plowing this winter and, another one was expected, after press time.
“This winter has been very cruel,” Pickup said.
The $300,000 contingency fund is a budgetary reserve set aside annually for emergencies or unforeseen expenditures for which the city has not otherwise budgeted. The DPW’s entire snow removal budget of $314,809, which includes the purchase of salt and equipment as well as DPW workers’ regular wages and overtime pay, has been used up at this point, Pickup said.
“This is not unusual for us to go to other line items and make other adjustments to send more funds to the DPW budget,” Pickup said.
The city manager said he will take stock of supplies at the end of March, and it is possible he will have to go back to the council for authorization to move more money from the contingency fund or transfer money from other DPW budget lines.
The city and Department of Public Works Director and City Engineer Ryan Coyne must calibrate many variables when they mobilize for a snowstorm, from the amount of manpower, to the number of trucks needed, to the number of pounds of salt necessary.
“Whenever we have an event, what Ryan [Coyne] looks at is time, temperature and intensity because all those factors make a decision for him about how we’re going to deploy people and what we’re going to put out on the street,” Pickup said. “If the temperature is in a certain zone, we can salt and use the salt to help melt the snow, and then you can plow more effectively.”
Councilman Terry McCartney and Councilwoman Julie Killian, both Republicans, specifically thanked the DPW during council announcements at the last two meetings.
“We spent 50 grand on that salt and it’s a good thing because we’ve had two events since our last meeting [on Jan. 29],” McCartney said at the council’s Feb. 5 meeting.
Sack, a Republican, said when the newly elected mayor of New York City, Democrat Bill de Blasio, was elected last year, New Yorkers warned him not to let the same thing happen to him that happened to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was away on a Caribbean vacation during one of the city’s largest blizzard events in 2010.
“I think snow and snow removal is something that all elected officials, mayors and City Council people are especially sensitive to and want to make sure it gets done right,” Sack said. “It’s one of those things that I know all of us get questions about and complaints about.”
In addition to using up funding, the city has faced a multitude of snow removal-related issues this year, Pickup said. For example, salt has been useless during some of the recent storms that have taken place in frigid temperatures well below 20 degrees, so sometimes plowing is the only option.
Then there is the fact that storms can go on for six to eight hours accumulating an inch an hour, then change back to flurries, then to freezing rain, thus affecting the city’s snow removal game plan hour-by-hour.
Another problem is the city is running out of places to put the snow and there is currently an excess. With the new parking arrangements made during the ongoing construction of a new science wing at Rye High School, hauled snow that would have gone in that space must be put in the commuter lot on the Boston Post Road across from the football field, which is filling up.
Pickup said the city spent the most on overtime for workers involved in hauling snow. But, he said, if for some reason there are no more storms this year, the city can spread the extra overtime costs out over 2014. A contributing factor to high overtime costs is that some of the events have happened on Sunday, Pickup said, and on Sundays, workers get double overtime pay.
Another problem the city, as well as other New York municipalities, have encountered this year is statewide salt shortages. The city currently has 300 to 400 tons of salt in its stores, and Pickup said he feels confident the city can stretch it. The city usually uses 150 to 200 tons per storm.
If the city runs out of salt, it would need to buy salt from independent contractors, who tend to charge more per ton, Pickup said. Currently, the city pays $51.69 to the New York State Office of General Services Procurement Contract, but indepedent contractors may charge twice as much.
This winter, the roads have also been damaged from freezing and thawing action somewhat more than usual, Pickup said, so the city will need to spend capital funds on fixing the roads when spring comes.