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Pittsfield public services commissioner discusses snow removal strategy, budget

Josh Landes
Pittsfield experiences its first snow of the season.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council heard a presentation on snow removal Tuesday night as the first snowfall of the season blanketed Berkshire County.

Department of Public Services and Utilities Commissioner Ricardo Morales told the body that he estimated the city will spend $1.6 million on snow and ice removal this winter.

“Making an estimate on weather is very difficult, but we have historical information that we can employ to make a best estimate and best educated guess, I will call it," he told Morales. "Over the last three winters I have been documenting our expenditures into two categories.”

The first category is direct costs.

“Salt use or sand when we have to mix it, contractor time on the road, our own overtime, our guys on the road, any police details that we hire- Especially for when we enact an snow emergency for the purposes of parking regulations changes,” said Morales.

The second is indirect costs.

“Indirect costs are essentially the all the rest and they basically are very difficult to specifically allocate to an individual event," the commissioner said. "And so, you have fuel spent, you have equipment maintenance over the period of winter season, and even before winter starts, we are preparing for the winter.”

Morales broke down how his department makes its best educated guess at how to budget for the winter.

“We know how many lane miles of roads we have, which are approximately, and I use the word approximately because it is an estimate based on the area we have, paved area on the city, we know that number," he explained. "And so, we assume a 10-foot-wide lane because of the plows. So, we arrive at this theoretical lane mile number, and that is 450 lane miles. And we also have per event, how much snow falls. And at the end of the season, how much snow falls. Winters where we have more prevalent ice formation on the road as opposed to snow can throw that off. We have come up internally with some ways that we can adjust what our time on the road is to deal with the ice, and equate it to how much snow we would have to be plowing or dealing with for the same amount of time on the road and expenses.”

With three years of data collection, the city estimates that it spends around $30 per lane mile per inch of snow on indirect costs.

Morales says the city has 42 contractors lined up for snow removal this year — far more than the 30 on hand in 2021. The commissioner answered a question about the timeframe after a snowstorm for private ways and side streets.

“We certainly perform the main streets, collectors, and arterioles first, and all that means is we have our guys, as soon as we can call, them they're on call, we get them in," he said. "Contractors, it'll take more time to get them in. They have to go in sign in, get the radios, they have to, from there, load up with salt. We have that equipment ready. We have the ability to pre-do all of those things with our guys. So, we're out first. So, contractors come out after there's two inches of snow, just because you know, if it's continuing to snow, we're not going to plow two inches and then plow another two inches later.”

Morales says there’s one substantial change to the city’s snow removal strategy this year.

“Every contractor, as well as our hub at the yard and our city employees, will have a radio which will allow us to communicate with faster or not reliant on phone calls and answering the phone call," he said. "Not only that, we are able to track where they are with the radio itself. So, we know we're going to have a lot more information this time around, and a lot more ability to be accountable- Hold the contractors and ourselves accountable.”

There’s no snow expected in Pittsfield heading into Thanksgiving week.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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