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Janesville City Council debates when city should act to remove snow

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
October 9, 2009
— The Janesville City Council on Thursday proved that snow removal is a lose-lose situation.

City Manager Eric Levitt proposed setting a three-inch standard before plowing snow on residential streets. It would have saved $75,000.


But, “$75,000 isn’t what this is about,” he said. “This is trying to create a standard so January has the same level of service as December,” Levitt said.


A majority of council members said they were fine with the standard.


But then they added: “What if?”


What if the snow is wet? What if it is heavy? What if temperatures drop and cause ruts?


They suggested a little wiggle room along with the three-inch standard.


That pretty much puts the policy back where it was, with the city plowing at between two to three inches.


The council met Thursday for its first study session for the 2010 budget. Russ Steeber was absent.


This is Levitt’s first budget, and he directed John Whitcomb, operations director, to come up with a realistic snow removal budget.


He said he made that suggestion because of complaints he heard last December.


The level of service decreased through the year because the city exceeded an unrealistically low budget, he said.


“I felt you should have the same service level in January as in December,” he said.


He suggested increasing the budget by $100,000 and adding the three-inch standard to provide a consistent service level that would be understood by the public.


Whitcomb said the snow removal fund in the past was a budget strategy that saw no upward adjustments even though costs increased.


The city knew the money would be spent to get the job done, Whitcomb said.


Council member Yuri Rashkin said he wasn’t comfortable with a three-inch standard.


“Appropriate snowplowing is extremely important,” Rashkin said. “We can’t be concerned about taking care of people in poverty and burying them in snow at the same time,” he added, referring to an earlier vote to put $15,000 in the budget to combat poverty.


Brunner agreed that there are complaints no matter what the city does. So much depends on when the snowfall occurs, such as the temperature and time of day.


And, while he agreed with a set standard, he said Whitcomb should still monitor conditions and sometimes get ahead of conditions.


Council member Kathy Voskuil said the city should set the standard but put the $75,000 back it the budget just in case variables dictate plowing before three inches.


Council member Frank Perrotto asked for discretion in the policy.


“I do not like the idea of this firm, absolute never-to-be-changed three inches,” he said. He suggested using the three inches as a guide, “but I think weather conditions may dictate a more aggressive approach. I have no problem generally with the three inches.”


Council member Bill Truman said he, too, was not comfortable with three inches.


“I’d rather drive through five inches of light snow than 2½ inches of wet snow,” he said.


Council member Tom McDonald was the only member who said he liked having a standard so people would know when the city would plow.


Levitt said he would return to the council with some different ideas.



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