A New Castle snowplow freshly loaded with salt Monday prepares to leave the city garage to salt remaining icy streets around the city. (David Burns / C-T photo)
By DARREL RADFORD
and SARA KOVACH
C-T Staff Reporters
It was, in some ways, the perfect storm for complaints - staffing in short supply because of perennial budget cutbacks, snow falling at the rate of an inch per hour, preventing normal trash pickup - all during a holiday.
Monday, in an interview with The Courier-Times, New Castle Mayor Greg York and Henry County Highway Administrator Joe Wiley explained their winter predicaments and defended their crews.
Both York and Wiley acknowledge there were some complaints about local roads during the recent blizzard conditions and seven-inch snowfall - but not as many as they had originally feared.
York expressed surprise during Monday's New Castle Board of Public Works and Safety meeting that no one appeared to talk about trash pickup delays. York said the simple truth was clearing the streets had to be done before any trash could be picked up. Tuesday was the first day for regular trash pickup schedules since before Christmas.
"It was a tough snow and a tough time of year," he said. "But I have to defend them because they worked extremely hard."
"We started getting our trash trucks stuck," new City Street Commissioner Dave Allen said. "That cost us extra money and time. We did the best we could considering the conditions."
York said the street department took off only Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve holidays, and for the most part, they worked day and night to make sure roads were passable.
"The main roads were passable every day in the heart of the snow," York said. "And then on the second day they were clearing off secondary streets and the third day they were back picking up trash."
Allen said a restless public contributed to lingering snow removal issues.
"We were in a snow emergency, but still had all these contractors plowing parking lots and people out going to fast-food restaurants when they were told to stay home," Allen said. "The general public didn't give us a chance to treat the streets first. As a result, snow and ice got packed down to the point where our snowplows couldn't take it up."
Meanwhile, Wiley said if there are county road complaints, the problems are not due to lack of effort by highway department employees.
"Equipment is not a problem. Salt supply is not a problem. Manpower is the problem," Wiley said. "We now have 24 employees to take care of 802 miles of road. "Eight years ago, we had 38 employees. Over the last two weeks, we've had some employees working seven days a week."
With this most recent storm - termed a "blizzard" by Indianapolis media though not the kind locals here remember in 1978 - wind played a major role.
"We end up shoveling the same snow flakes more than once," Wiley said.
Wiley said he hopes the Indiana General Assembly, which began a new legislative session on Monday, would take seriously the growing funding problems county highway departments are experiencing.
"In a perfect world, we'd pick up another six to eight employees," Wiley said. "But the gas tax revenue is lower because people are driving more efficient vehicles. This department had more funding to work with in 2000 than it does in 2013."
Wiley said his department has an ample supply of salt because so much of it was not used during last year's mild winter. Equipment maintenance is another problem, however.
In recent weeks, Wiley said he has discussed the funding issue with State Rep. Tom Saunders, R-Lewisville, as well as State Sens. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, and Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown.
Wiley testified in front of a Senate Appropriations Committee about highway funding last year. He said ideas such as a special tax on hybrid vehicles or a fuel tax increase may be discussed this year.
Posted: Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Article comment by:
I feel they did a good job on my street for a change. I would have liked to see intersections like 15th and A ave which were ice covered for days salted more. I almost got slammed when the man on 15th didnt drive like it was an ice covered street.
Posted: Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Article comment by:
I just hope there are no repercussions to homeowners who have been waiting for trash pickup and now their trash is overflowing and more than 2 of the totes can handle. Also, I'm leaving my totes on the curb for the remainder of the winter it is ludicrous to pull them back and forth my driveway weekly in this snow. Sorry, New Castle, but I don't see a reduction in my trash pickup fee so the totes, overflowing as they are, will stay on the curb probably until March.