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More than a temporary solution needed for roads staffing

by Mike Robinson

ERIN - It will take more than additional winter road crews to deal with staffing issues here road superintendent Larry Van Wyck told council at its Oct. 4 meeting.

He said this is the time of year the town needs to hire temporary equipment operators. They would be employed from early November to early April.

The jobs include regular winter patrols, plowing the village of Erin, and one rural route.

Van Wyck said they would be on a three day on, three day off rotation. In addition, a temporary operation is needed for sidewalk maintenance.

He said the town has received bids for snow plowing at various locations, including the main streets of Erin and Hillsburgh.

In all instances, Van Wyck recommended the low bid be accepted.

During later discussion, Mayor Lou Maieron noted that a few months ago, Van Wyck had handed councillors a four-page list of projects the department is working on.

The concern raised, Maieron said, is there was a feeling the roads department does not have the staff to accomplish that work in summer.

He asked if the hiring of the temporary winter staff and awarding snow plow tenders  frees up the department.

“How can we accomplish that,” Maieron asked.

“Getting more help,” was Van Wyck’s response. He said current town policies allow staff to bank up to three weeks of overtime.

“I have employees with five and six weeks holidays. When all that is coupled together with statutory holidays and sick days, I lose the equivalent of two employees for the entire year.”

At the same time, the intent is to have people take those vacations between April to November.

“Snowplow operators are not much good if they are on holidays.”

The result, Van Wyck said, “is the problem is concentrated in a shorter period of time. Alternate arrangements or more help is necessary.”

He said it is difficult to meet statutory requirements “and in some cases impossible with the work force we have.”

Maieron suggested Van Wyck draft a report with options to alleviate the shortages so it can be considered at budget time. “I’m not saying we can do anything, but I’d like to know what you think.”

Van Wyck said that information was included in the 2011 budget, where he had noted two of his staff were on the cusp of retirement and it was time to consider additional help to supplement the workforce and to have fully trained staff when those needs happen.

“This council opted not to do that, and we’ve been short [staffed] ever since.”

He explained Erin has a larger proportion of roads that are gravel, and all it takes is one thunderstorm to create up to two weeks of work  fixing a specific road.

“Unfortunately, it means every other work plan [or project] goes by the wayside when that happens.”

Van Wyck said another possible solution is to pave more roads, which, while more costly to initially do, require less ongoing maintenance.

Maieron again asked Van Wyck to put his challenges into writing with suggestions.

He hopes that will come sooner than later, because the mayor anticipates budget discussions will begin soon.

Van Wyck said, “We spend the months of May and June putting gravel on the roads, and it seems we’re spending July, August, September and October taking it out of the ditch.”

Maieron said one thing he has suggested is considering a 10 year paving plan to determine which roads should be a priority. He agreed a paved road has a lot less maintenance than a gravel one.

Van Wyck said councillors need to be aware the town has spent very little of its own money in roads. “Capital improvements have all been funded by other levels of government.”

He said there are financial implications. “It takes money; that’s the bottom line.”

Maieron chipped in “... until we get a casino ...”

“... or a (printing) press,” added Van Wyck.


October 21, 2011


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