After decision to cut budget, Rockland struggles with snow removal

Rockland is considering revising the way it plows streets in an attempt to reduce overtime costs.
Stephen Betts
Rockland is considering revising the way it plows streets in an attempt to reduce overtime costs. Buy Photo
Posted Dec. 18, 2013, at 8:30 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 19, 2013, at 10:48 a.m.
This drawing by Gartley and Dorsky Engineering and Survey shows the layout for the proposed salt and sand shed in Rockland.
Gartley and Dorsky Engineering and Survey
This drawing by Gartley and Dorsky Engineering and Survey shows the layout for the proposed salt and sand shed in Rockland.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The pair of late autumn snowstorms that battered the midcoast during the past week tested the city’s attempt to reduce its snow removal costs.

During development of the 2013-2014 municipal budget, councilors cut the public works’ snow removal budget by $17,000 and asked the administration to come up with a plan to meet the reduced budget.

But the weather has not cooperated.

Public Works Director Greg Blackwell said in a typical season the department plows 50 to 55 inches of snow. But the two storms in the past week have dumped 30 inches.

“We’re already way above the pace for a typical winter and we’re not even at Christmas,” Blackwell told the council during a Wednesday night council meeting.

One service that is being affected by the attempt to reduce snow removal costs has been the clearing of sidewalks.

Councilor Frank Isganitis said where he lives and operates a business — the LimeRock Inn — on Limerock Street, there is no alternative for pedestrians other than to walk in the travel lane of the road.

He said it was dangerous, particularly with people walking with children to the city recreation center on Limerock.

Councilor Eric Hebert also voiced concern about the clearing of sidewalks.

“The department does a great job of clearing the roads. The frustration I’m hearing is about the sidewalks,” Hebert said.

He suggested that when the plows do the final pass from a storm that they extend the blades to go over sidewalks.

Mayor Larry Pritchett said the department should consider a priority list for streets and sidewalks based on factors such as the amount of traffic and pedestrian traffic to determine which are to be cleaned first. He said other cities such as Portland publish such a priority list.

Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson agreed.

Hebert said the City Council took the money away and did not give good direction to the administration on how the money could be saved while providing the service.

“The one thing that catches people’s attention is snowplowing. When it snows, people want it gone,” Hebert said.

The councilors also pointed out that downtown merchants are facing a challenge in keeping the sidewalks clear when the plow comes by and dumps more snow.

Pritchett said he spoke to a former councilor who was on the board when the ordinance was approved to require downtown merchants to keep the sidewalk in front of their stores clear. He said that the intent of the ordinance was that this would be done when there are reasonable amounts of snow and not 16 inches such as the Tuesday night storm.

The council also heard a presentation Wednesday night on the proposed construction of a salt and sand shed. Voters approved borrowing $586,000 for the project in November.

The 70-foot-by-130-foot building would be built on city-owned land near the transfer station. The building would be similar to the Rockport salt and sand shed, said engineer Wil Gartley of Gartley and Dorsky Engineering and Surveying.

The project will go before the Rockland Planning Board in January or February, go out to bid in March and then be constructed in late spring or early summer.

CORRECTION:

A previous version of this story requires correction. The $17,000 cut from the Rockland public works budget was from all snow removal accounts and not just the overtime account for public works.

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