There’s no winter flag waving outside City Hall, but Tuesday may nonetheless go down as the day Buffalo officials declared “Let it Snow.”
While for years the city has confronted the snow on city streets head-on, Buffalo on Tuesday took a step toward addressing sidewalk snow as well.
At the request of the Public Works Department, the Common Council approved spending up to $100,000 on a sidewalk snow-removal pilot program that runs through the end of March.
Under the plan, the city will contract with two or three private companies to help clear sidewalks in front of city-owned properties on at least five major roadways whenever at least 3 inches of snow falls.
Ground Control Inc. will be responsible for the Broadway and Clinton runs, while KD Professional Services will handle the Bailey, East Delavan and Fillmore runs. A third company could be called in as well if needed and if funding is available.
The five main roads were selected because they are bus routes with a lot of city-owned properties on them, said Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak.
The contracts will not include clearing sidewalks in front of private properties, although if private owners don’t clear walks along these routes, the city could have them cleared and charge the property owner for the service, Stepniak said.
In addition to the contracted work for the major thoroughfares, the city will use volunteers and its own crews to help elderly and disabled residents clear snow in front of their properties as well as some city-owned residential lots, Stepniak said.
The Public Works Department initially set a maximum of $100,000 for the pilot program, with KD getting up to $65,000 and Ground Control up to $35,000. But that was based on the contracts starting Jan. 1. Given that the program will not start until Feb. 1, the city will either pro-rate the costs to reflect a two-month rather than three-month contract, or will expand the contracts to include more streets, Stepniak said.
The pilot program was approved by an 8-1 vote of the Council, with Lovejoy Councilman Richard A. Fontana opposing the contracts. Fontana said he supports the concept, but given that the contracts won’t start until February, and given that forecasters expect a relatively mild March, he would prefer a per-diem contract this year, in which the companies are paid each time they clear snow, rather than the flat fee the city is negotiating with them. Those flat fees would be the same regardless of how many – or few – times the contractors come out.
“I don’t like to see people paid to sit home and do nothing,” Fontana said.
But Stepniak and the other Council members responded that private snow-removal contracts are typically set up with a flat fee, which sometimes benefits the company and other times doesn’t. Stepniak added that this is a pilot program, so it could be adjusted based on this first-year experience.
Also supporting the contract is the Wellness Institute of Buffalo, whose executive director, Philip L. Haberstro, said Stepniak spoke with several community organizations, including his, to develop the program.
“This pilot is trying to address one of the tough issues – walkability in the winter months,” Haberstro said.
Stepniak began looking into sidewalk snowplowing programs after the city found itself unable to clear snow from most of its 8,000 lots – including those on major thoroughfares – during last winter’s record snowfall.
Stepniak over the past year spoke with other communities throughout the state, including Rochester, to get ideas for a Buffalo pilot program. The city of Rochester helps clear sidewalk snow throughout the city, including in front of privately owned homes. But Stepniak rejected that model because of its cost.
The average homeowner pays $15 to $20 a year for the Rochester service, according to Rochester officials. Buffalo did not want a program that would increase taxes, Stepniak said.