Pittsfield Council Talks Snow Removal During First Snowfall
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council took up various agenda items related to snow removal on Tuesday while flurries fell for the first time this season.
Councilors voted to update to the city's snow and ice removal process to increase compliance, designated a private way for plowing, and received a breakdown of fiscal 2022 and 2023 winter expenditures.
Changes to the city's handling of snow include increasing the number of inspectors from one to all inspectors in the Health Department and allowing only one warning per calendar year.
The Ordinances and Rules subcommittee approved the updated process earlier this month after it had been referred to City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta. The effort was brought forward by at-Large Councilor Earl Persip III.
Ward 2 Councilor Kronick was against ordaining the changes, saying it would cause a lot of unintended consequences in Morningside.
He said constituents complain about city plows undoing their cleared sidewalks and that a $25 fee on a first offense is a lot of money.
"I think a $25 fine is a minimal fine when you consider what we're talking about. We're talking about keeping our sidewalks clear for children and the elderly to get to where they need to go," Persip said.
"Too much in this city, and I've seen it and I know others have seen it, you've seen kids walking to school in the road and we're all going to regret not holding people accountable when something tragic happens.
He said the city will likely learn from this and have some adjustments but wanted to get the process in motion as soon as possible.
Councilor at Large Karen Kalinowsky said enforcement on both residents and business owners will be the key.
"My thing is as long as the enforcement's out there I think you will see people getting it done," she said. "We tend to not enforce a lot of our rules."
A petition from Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey requesting that Alpine Trail — off Dan Fox Drive near Bousquet Ski Area — be designated for snow removal was also approved.
Last month, the council designated eight private streets for plowing. Following this, Alpine Trail residents asked that they, too, have snow removal done by the city.
To get a sense of where the city is with snow removal costs, Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales presented the upcoming season's snow and ice removal expenditures and operations. This was prompted by a request from Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi.
Morales reported that it cost the city about $1.46 million in fiscal 2022 and is anticipated to cost about $1.66 million in fiscal 2023.
"The bottom line is that a few things: making an estimate on the weather is very difficult but we have historical information that we can employ to best guess," he explained.
Over the last three years, Morales has been documenting the expenses in two main categories: direct costs and indirect costs.
Direct costs include contractors, overtime, road surface treatments and materials, and police details. Indirect costs such as equipment maintenance, fuel, and incidentals are difficult to allocate to a specific snow event.
Materials cost 30 percent of the pot, over $440,000.
The increase for fiscal 2023 reflects inflationary costs for fuel, contractor pay, and the addition of over 8 lane miles of private streets.
When speaking on his petition, Kavey said that the estimated $27,000 in new expenditures for added streets included Alpine Trail's designation.
Lampiasi thanked Morales for the thorough report.
"I really just wanted to give us all an idea of what to expect," she said.
"It seems like year after year that I've been on the council and even before there is this feeling of mystery around this number and hearing you talk about it this way and lay it out in this document is really helpful I think to those of us up here and those at home."
Persip pointed out that private ways are used to getting contracted plowing services during a snow event and that they should know the city may not be as fast.
"It's not like a private contractor," he said. "We're not going to be out there the minute a storm hits because we do main streets first."
Morales added that some residents have private contracts that include road, sidewalk, and driveway plowing. He emphasized that the city will not plow sidewalks or driveways on the private ways, as it does not for the rest of Pittsfield.
Private contractors have asked where they will put the snow that comes from the driveways and sidewalks, as they are used to putting it in the road and then taking it away.
For this reason, one recently designated street asked not to be plowed by the city because residents said it made sense for them to continue their contract.
"I want to put it out there, as good as it sounds to be plowed by the city, you have to put your expectations into reality," Persip said.
Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey requested that the council is sent information on the city's quadrants —of which there are over 30 — so that councilors can efficiently communicate with the administration when fielding complaints.
Morales reported that every contractor and city employee will now have a radio that allows them to communicate faster and be tracked.
"We are going to have a lot more information this time around and a lot more ability to hold the contractors and ourselves accountable," he said.
In a communication that was referred to the Public Works Committee, Morales recommended that the city adopt standards for designating private ways for snow plowing that are consistent with the statute.
In 1945, a local law was adopted that allows the city to authorize funding for snow and ice removal in private ways that are accessible to the general public.
He provided a list of considerations for eligibility to determine what that means: road design, the degree that the road handles public traffic, the timing of the request, the number of residents using the road, and the length of road per resident.
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