Snowclearing staff can be recalled, city says

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Daniel MacEachern
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Workers remaining after layoff can handle reduced workload: public works deputy manager

The deputy manager of public works for St. John’s says the city’s reduced snowclearing staff will be able to handle the spring’s final snowfalls.

At Monday’s regular city council meeting, Paul Mackey acknowledged the concern expressed Monday after it was reported that the city laid off temporary snowclearing staff last week, as it does every year at this time.

An employee of the City of St. John’s turns onto Stamps Lane from Empire Avenue on Monday afternoon in a snow plow. — Photo  by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

The news came on a day St. John’s was hit by nearly 20 centimetres of snow, with more expected Wednesday.

“The third week of March is our normal time when we scale back our operations after a full winter season,” he said.

“We go from a total of 180 operators down to 50, but when we have the 180, they’re spread out over three shifts, actually, so there’s actually only 60 working at any given time on a shift.”

Mackey said the 50 current workers were out Monday, resp-onding as the city normally would.

“The concern, of course, is that if we get back-to-back storms or extended storms, how will we address those kinds of things?” Mackey said, adding there are a few factors to consider. “One is that we can work overtime, so those people that are working today can work up to 16 hours, so we cover off those types of situations with overtime.”

As of Friday, the city has spent $348,222 on snowclearing overtime, 16 per cent more than its budgeted amount of $300,000 for all of 2014.

“The other thing that we do is, of the people that are laid off or reassigned to spring jobs, there’s about 30 operators among the group that are still with the city in different divisions,” said Mackey. “So we have the ability to recall them or reassign them during a storm to assist and to help out and to back up the 50 people that are on the normal day shift.”

This time of year, the city is finished with snow removal and snowblower operations, said Mackey. “When we get snow now, it’ll likely melt before we have to truck it. We have everything pretty well blown back and removed, and there’s room to push back for a storm. So the actual workload is a lot less in terms of snow-clearing. We’re primarily doing ice control and plowing, and we’re not doing those other activities that would take up a lot of those staff that would be on during the winter time.”

So far this year, the city has spent $5.6 million of the $16 million budgeted for snow clearing in 2014, about $742,000 more than anticipated for the year-to-date. The biggest dents in the year-to-date expenditures are overtime — the amount budgeted for the year-to-date is just $130,000, less than half the amount spent — and salt. So far, the city has spent $1.9 million on salt, up from the $1.35 million anticipated by this date and more than half of the $3.15-million budgeted. The city has also spent $96,000 on truck rentals, more than six times the $15,000 allocated for all of 2014.

 

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel

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  • Herb Morrison
    March 25, 2014 - 10:43

    Given the City’s inability to effectively clear snow from the sidewalks on streets, including my own, during this Winter, despite the fact that a full complement of snow clearing crews were in place, I can be forgiven for being just a tad sceptical about the City’s ability to clear snow effectively, in the event of a major snowfall, when only a fraction of the personnel responsible for snowing are still on the job. Could it be that members of City Council have become so preoccupied with staying as close to budget as possible, that Council is willing to lay off a significant number of snow- clearing staff, despite the possibility that such action could contribute to the compromising of the safety of the public, when public safety could already be at risk because of other threats to public safety, which a major storm can pose. Council has a responsibility, to taxpayers, to impose as much control on the forces of nature, utilizing whatever equipment and personnel it has at its’ disposal to do so. In my opinion, speaking as a taxpayer, anything less could constitute a shirking of responsibility to myself and other taxpayers, on the part of the “powers that be” at City.

  • Pitiful
    March 25, 2014 - 09:54

    Let me get this straight >>180 workers and 60 per shift doing snowclearing and clean-up work >>50 at 1/3 = 17 per shift doing snowclearing and clean-up work or does the 50 ppl work day and night to clear the mess up ????? oppssss what mess ….how pathetic putting public safety at risk. Shame Shame

  • bucyk
    March 25, 2014 - 09:16

    Drove Kenmout Road last night after work. Looked the same as before the layoffs . Not touched .

  • Harry Stone
    March 25, 2014 - 08:52

    The reality is that most streets in downtown St. John's have not seen a plow after yesterdays snow fall. It is just gross incompetence .

  • Jay
    March 25, 2014 - 08:21

    If I remember correctly, this happened last year too. The forecast was out there last week about this new snow fall. I would suggest April for layoffs in the future..

  • Dave Hopley
    March 25, 2014 - 07:54

    And the sidewalks? I haven't heard any mention of them. I guess we're fated to lose those again until the snow melts - in a week or two or three...