City caught with snow-pants down?

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116543444218975.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) took heat over snow removal.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11654344701879.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Ald. Carl Wasco (D-4) said a contractor intentionally plowed in a constituent.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11654345151840.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) said the Mayor and Public Works director are accountable for the city's slow response.’);

The National Weather Service reported a record single-day snowfall of 11 inches in Rockford Dec. 1. Meteorologists warned of the storm’s severity days before it hit. While a snowstorm of this magnitude is not typical for this area, many remain unsatisfied by the City’s snow removal efforts.

“Because of the weight of the snow, the quantity of snow in a short period of time, it was difficult to get it all cleaned up,” Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) explained. “I appreciate the community’s patience as we’ve been going through that.”

Municipal crews are not alone, however. The City has a contract with Rabine Paving of Belvidere to supplement Rockford’s own plow crews and equipment. Rabine, the City’s only bidder for the job, has the right to subcontract the work out, without council approval.

At the Dec. 4 Rockford City Council meeting, everyone seemed to agree the city crews did a good job of clearing arterial streets in a timely manner. Residential streets, which the contractors are responsible for, were another issue.

Numerous aldermen spoke about snow removal issues that had affected their wards. Most complaints were about the plowing of residential areas.

Seventh Ward Alderman Ann Thompson (D) said residents simply wanted to be able to get to work, but that unplowed streets prevented it. “It was an inconvenience, and it did cause a problem, Thompson said.”

The City reserves its full-sized trucks for plowing the major streets. Contractors use pickup trucks fitted with plows. These crews were clearly outmatched by the volume of snow that fell in just 10 hours.

“The equipment they used in some of the areas,” explained Ald. Frank Beach (R-10), “they just weren’t strong enough to push that snow.”

“A lot of the mail didn’t get delivered and is still not getting delivered, because the mail trucks can’t get in there,” Ald. Lenny Jacobson (D-6) charged. “We don’t plow close enough to the curbs so that the mail trucks can get in.”

Because many on the contracted crew had to drive in from out of town through the storm, response to the mounting snow on residential streets was slow.

“They made a contract with us to do those side streets for the snow,” said 13th Ward Alderman Linda McNeely (D). “Why didn’t the private contractor make sure that those individuals were here to clean the streets?”

Rabine Paving did not return a call for comment prior to publication.

McNeely suggested the City reconsider its contract with Rabine. “Needless to say, I’m more than displeased with their work,” she said.

Ald. Victory Bell (D-5) reported that entire areas of his ward had been missed by the plow crews.

“Who from the City signed off on the work that has been completed by the private contractors?” Bell asked. “And when the contractors fail to complete their areas, who pays for the City to have to go back on those uncompleted areas?”

After the meeting, Rockford Public Works Director Bill Bittner explained that contractors are paid for hours worked, not for areas completed.

Fourth Ward Alderman Carl Wasco (D) said he received 60 to 100 calls from constituents complaining side streets still had not been plowed hours after the main streets had been cleared.

“It’s OK to do the main streets, but if you can’t get from your home to a main street to go to work, that becomes a huge problem,” Wasco said. Ald. Wasco also noted mail delivery was an issue in his ward because the streets had not been plowed curb to curb. Wasco then relayed a story from a woman whose car was allegedly plowed in by a contractor on purpose.

Ald. Joe Sosnowski (R-1) said he took a lot of complaint calls from residents in his ward over the weekend.

“As aldermen, we want to field phone calls and take care of our constituents, but that really shouldn’t be our job necessarily,” Sosnowski argued. “There should be better oversight as far as what the contractors are doing.”

Sosnowski added, “As we head into the budget cycle, we need to evaluate these contracts.”

Much having already been said, Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11) suggested the Rockford Snow Plan be posted to the City’s web site to keep residents informed when the snow is falling. Holt also said the odd-even parking during winter storms simply isn’t working. Holt proposed the ordinance should either be done away with or enforced.

“For the years that I’ve been on the City Council, I never received this many phone calls regarding snow removal,” 14th Ward Ald. Dan Conness (D) reported. Conness did, however, acknowledge a storm like the one Dec. 1 is a worthy adversary for any plow crew.

Conness added, “Hopefully, this will just be a lesson for the contractors to know that we’re watching out, and we wanna make sure we get what we pay for.”

“Obviously, we saw inconsistencies throughout the community,” said Mayor Morrissey. City officials are sure to continue snow removal discussions. With a long winter ahead, the issue is not likely to melt anytime soon.

“There’s a lot of improvements we can make,” Bittner concluded. “One of the interesting things that happens when you get a snowfall of this infrequency, it shows you some places you can improve, rather dramatically, and we’ll be working on that in the upcoming weeks.”

From the Dec. 6 – Dec. 12, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!