Lexington will be hiring private contractors to help clear snow from streets this winter.
A committee of the Lexington Urban County Council gave tentative approval Tuesday to a tiered snow removal response plan that will use private contractors to augment the city's snow removal efforts.
As part of that plan, the city will hire contractors to plow major streets such as Man O' War, Polo Club and Citation boulevards regardless of the amount of snow accumulation.
Albert Miller, the city's director of streets and roads, said hiring those contractors will free up five city-owned plows that can serve other Lexington streets. That means more streets can be cleared in less time.
Those private contractors will also be tapped to help the city plow other streets if more than eight inches of snow falls. During this past winter, the city used private contractors to clear interior streets in neighborhoods after the city was hit with two major snowstorms in less than four weeks.
David Holmes, the city's Environmental Quality and Public Works commissioner, told the council Tuesday that it took those contractors a few days to mobilize because those companies were already under contract with the state — meaning they had to plow state roads first before getting to Lexington city streets.
By having a private company under a city contract before the winter starts, the contractor will be obligated to the city first.
But it will cost the city to have those contractors available even if the city has a mild winter.
At minimum, the cost will be $172,000. It will be an additional $10,000 per mobilization. On average, the city has 11 mobilizations for snow removal each year. The high was 22 mobilizations, Holmes said.
Finance Commissioner Bill O'Mara recommended that the council set aside a little more than $288,034 for this year's winter, based on the average 11 mobilizations plus the initial cost.
How the city will pay for the additional cost to hire private contractors is still up in the air. In November, the council will begin deliberations on how to spend any surplus funds from the fiscal year that ended on June 30. Last year, the city was able to use money budgeted for personnel and overtime that was not spent to pay the $334,675 it cost to hire private contractors for snow removal.
In addition to approving a revamped snow plan for clearing city streets, the council committee also approved a new plan for the city to clear sidewalks owned by the city. The city was criticized during snowstorms in February and March for failing to clear its own sidewalks despite having an ordinance that allows the city to fine residents and businesses for failing to clear sidewalks.
The city controls 67 miles of sidewalks. The plan approved on Tuesday would take three years for the city to implement because it needs to buy more equipment. This winter the city has decided to clear all of its rank one sidewalks — those in downtown and in other high pedestrian areas — within 24 hours. Rank two sidewalks — those on major corridors in high-density areas such as Man O'War and Citation boulevards — will be cleared within 48 hours. The city will try to get to most rank three sidewalks — those city-owned sidewalks within neighborhoods and other low-pedestrian areas. To implement the plan this year, the city will have to purchase $76,000 in new equipment, including snow clearing equipment designed specifically for sidewalks. It's also likely to cost the city an additional $19,000 in overtime, city officials said.