Friday, November 04, 2005

SNOW REMOVAL IMPROVEMENTS A PRIORITY

More staff, new shifts, part of plan to streamline cleanup of roadways
BY ROBERT LAPENSEE
THIS WEEK
NIAGARA FALLS — More staff, new shifts and a dose of Big Brother on all city snow plows are just a few of the changes the city will be using to bring its snow removal program up to an acceptable level.
Stating its response to the seven winter storms in 2004-05 was inad­equate, staff reviewed city operations and put together a plan for 2005-06 to handle winter road maintenance, local politicians heard in a report at its community services committee meeting this week.
The winter maintenance program is the first of the city's service pro­grams to be overhauled as part of a navel gazing exercise designed to look at where the city can improve on the services it provides to taxpay­ers. A survey of residents found that only 62 per cent of those contacted were satisfied with snow clearing on roadways, and even less (46 per cent) were happy with how the city handled snow clearing on sidewalks.
Staff said a big problem was not gelling employees to respond to calls after hours when winter storms were happening In the evening. Of employ­ees called in to work overtime to clear snow from roads, six out of 10 responded. But only a fifth of employ­ees called to clear sidewalks showed up.
As part of their contract, employ­ees are allowed to refuse overtime.
"Our current response rate was unacceptable," said Dale Morton, of the city's municipal works depart­ment, during her presentation to politicians.
Staff is looking at splitting shifts, keeping its regular 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift and adding a midnight to 8 a.m. shift Monday to Friday. The shifts still leave 4 p.m. until midnight and weekends without any staffing, but Morton said in her report those can be supplement­ed with call-ins and contract workers in the event of a storm.
The report also calls for making eight former seasonal positions permanent and adding three more seasonal posi­tions, and for the use of one-person plows instead of those using a second "wing man."
"The obvious benefit is that we will have people out there already and we won't be paying overtime," said John MacDonald, the city's CAO. The city paid out about $227,000 in overtime last year.
"And while we are waiting for people to come into work, we won't have a meltdown," MacDonald said.
Routes will be standardized and optimized to improve the efficiency of operation and satellite tracking equip­ment will be installed in all winter maintenance vehicles to allow senior staff to monitor the fleet's productivity, routing and salt manage­ment through a live feed.
MacDonald said the city will spend about $43,000 more on the winter main­tenance operating budget in order to do the things proposed, like installing the satellite system.
"We hope to recoup that with our cost savings," said MacDonald.Council unanimously approved the recommendation of making the eight sea­sonal positions permanent at a cost of $21,000. Aid. Victor Pietrangelo said he was very much in favour of the standardized routes and the satellite system, adding snow removal is a "high pri­ority issue."
"I like how the account­ability here has been increased," said Pietrangelo. "There are a lot of neat fea­tures."



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