February is finally over. What was a mild winter did a complete about-face within a three-week span. Arctic air, combined with a dip in the jet stream accounted for several major storms, with three dumping significant snowfalls on the region. Though the city had to deal with those storms, Mayor Nancy Rossi said the city is still within its budget.
While the city saw three significant storms, two of which dumped up to a foot of snow in a short period, Rossi said things are still on track for this winter season.
“We have $255,000 allocated in two budget accounts for all storms. If we continue in the current weather pattern, the budget could be close,” she said.
March is always an unpredictable month, with fluctuating weather patterns. This week alone calls for a bit of a thaw, mixed in with temperatures that will drop into the 20s due to Arctic cold. With a storm before Christmas on the books as well as those of the last three weeks, the city can still withstand another bout with Ole Man Winter
“We anticipated 5-6 major storms during the winter,” Rossi said. “We have sufficient funds in the accounts referenced above to cover them. Should there be more storms than anticipated and our allocated funds be depleted, we can transfer funds intra-departmentally to cover the costs. In the unlikely event that we need funds beyond that, we can access the unallocated contingency funds the City Council prudently funded as a reserve.”
In an average storm, the city allocates a total of 43 city workers toward snow removal.
For a typical storm, Rossi said the staffing is allocated with the City Garage (6 people) responsible for keeping the fleet operational; City Hall building maintenance (seven people) is responsible for city-owned properties, parking lots, and sidewalks; while Highway/Park Maintenance (30 people) are responsible for maintenance and clearing of the city roads and city-owned parks.
Of course, winter doesn’t react according to the city’s budget or its worker schedule. Overtime is paid on Saturdays at time-and-a-half; while overtime on Sundays and holidays is at double-time. That type of payment can eat into allocated funds pretty quickly.
Rossi explained the logistics of getting the city ready for a “snow event.”
“For a typical storm, the city’s public information officer disseminates watches, warnings, delays/closings, and updates. The administration, public works, fire department, police department, and the emergency operations director meet to determine the best course of action, and remain in contact throughout the storm,” she said.
When more dangerous storms hit the region, other measures are put into action.
“Very few storms warrant the opening of our Emergency Operations Center (EOC). For those that do, coordination meetings begin 48 hours prior to the estimated start of the storm. These meetings include fire, police, administration, press, public works, and the West Haven Health Department. Opening the EOC triggers representatives of the utility companies being onsite, along with representatives of Dept of Public works, police and fire departments,” she said.
Clean up for a typical storm will extend up to 36 hours after the declared end of the storm.
While the Jet Stream has altered its pattern in the last week or so, March in New England is always a wild card. Currently, March is coming in “like a lamb” with 40-plus degree temperatures, mixed in with some Arctic cold. But things can change fast and city officials try to keep up with the daily forecasts.
“Public Works actively follows National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admiinistration updates, receives regular DESPP/DEMHS (Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security) updates, and also consults local and regional sources for weather,” Rossi said.
The mayor took the time to thank those first responders who have worked hard over the last several weeks to keep things running.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to thank the men and women of Public Works, fire departments and police, who jump into action regardless of the time of day or day of week,” she said.
She also asked people to understand that storms mean taking some personal actions as well.
“I encourage people to be patient, take a bit of extra time to get where you’re going, stay off the roads if possible, obey snow emergency protocols, and give PW time to get the snow off the roads,” she said.
She encouraged people to sign up for alerts at www.cityofwesthaven.com.