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October 29, 2013

Council approves winter road agreement

Residents may not need to clear sidewalks behind homes on major roads

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

City crews and contractors will remove the snow on county roads to the same standard as city roads this year.

The council unanimously approved a winter maintenance agreement with Road Commission for Oakland County for $249,691 Oct. 21. Under the agreement, the county pays the city to clear snow and ice from county roads, which are Long Lake, John R, Big Beaver, Crooks, Livernois, Maple, South Boulevard, Dequindre and Adams.

“The citizens can expect the same level of service (on all major roads in the city),” said Council member Maureen McGinnis.

Since 2001, the city has plowed all county roads with the exception of I-75 and M-59, which the county maintains. The total annual budget for 2013-14 for snow and ice control on all Troy streets, including county roads, is $1.89 million.

Troy Public Works Director Tim Richnak said that over the past 12 years, it has cost the city, on average $70,000 more each year than the county stipend to clear the roadways. He explained that the severe winters of 2008 and 2009, when snowfall amounts rivaled the historically severe winters of 1918 and 1919, skewed the average.

“If you average the last four years, the average is $17,000 more each year,” he said.

Richnak noted that the price for road salt is 18 percent less than previous years, largely because of the average-to-light snowfall in the past few years.

Winter road maintenance costs are 46 percent for road salt, 31 percent for personnel, and 23 percent for equipment and vehicles, he added.

Crews work 12-hour shifts to clear major roadways along the 14 different routes through the city as soon as possible during snow and ice events, and they plow subdivisions in 24 hours or less, Richnak said.

In 2010, due to budget constraints, the council changed the protocol for snow removal in subdivisions to 72 hours after snowfall of four inches or more had stopped.  

Some residents waited three days for roadways in subdivisions to be cleared after a winter storm on Feb. 20, 2011, dumped 9 inches of snow on roadways — prompting numerous complaints to city officials from residents.

“We’re looking forward to a safe and plowed community this winter,” Richnak said.

When the council made budget cuts in 2010, city crews stopped clearing sidewalks adjacent to major roadways abutting rear yards of homes and businesses, although the city ordinance, which had not changed, requires that snow and ice be cleared from city sidewalks within 24 hours. The budget cuts in effect transferred that responsibility to residents and business owners to clear sidewalks adjacent to rear yards.

This could change. The council is scheduled to hold a study session Nov. 25 to examine the $23 million fund balance and look at ways to shore up deep budget cuts made in 2010.

Resident John Weir, who lives on Dayton, near Dequindre of Long Lake, told the council at the Oct. 21 meeting that he received a letter last winter advising him that he was required to clear the snow along a sidewalk on Long Lake that abuts his rear property.

“I view this as a tax shift,” he said. He said that 108 feet of sidewalk abutting his property runs along Long Lake.

Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm said the council was slated to consider amending the city ordinance regarding snow removal on sidewalks to make it more lenient at the Nov. 11 meeting.

The proposed revision would still require that ice be removed from sidewalks as soon as possible, but would extend guidelines for snow removal to 48 hours and for only 3 or more inches of snow. Also, under the proposed revision, city crews or contractors would remove snow and ice from “difficult sidewalks” designated as those 36 inches from the edge of the pavement of a major thoroughfare.

At the Oct. 21 meeting, City Councilman Doug Tietz asked residents who received notification that they must remove snow from sidewalks on rear property lines abutting main roads to contact the council via email with background of the situation.

“The city got 100 percent of the savings and the residents got 100 percent of the bill,” he said.

At a Sept. 9 study session, the council heard a report from Paul Evans, the city’s zoning and compliance officer, on costs for the city to clear some and all sidewalks in the city. The cost to clear snow and ice from sidewalks adjacent to homes backing up to main roads (just more than 20 miles) would be $12,890 for snow of fewer than 6 inches and $17,147 for snowfall of more than 6 inches.

The cost for contractors to remove snow and ice from all public sidewalks (526 miles) when snowfall is fewer than 6 inches would be more than $334,662 per snow event and $459,917 for snowfall of more than 6 inches per snow event. Costs to remove snow from all sidewalks adjacent to main roads (just fewer than 141.5 miles) is $90,022 per event for fewer than 6 inches and $123,714 for snowfall of more than 6 inches. 

“We’re trying to come up with the best way to approach this,” said Mayor Dane Slater at the Oct. 21 meeting. “I do think there’s consensus on the council. We have sympathy, but we can’t get to all those sidewalks. We cannot tell everyone who backs up to a main road that the city will do the sidewalk.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.