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City service department lays out needs for 2018 budget

By LAURA FREEMAN Reporter Published: May 10, 2017 12:00 AM

Hudson -- The public works department has a lot of paperwork hindering its seasonal duties, a pile of business leaves and a need for power.

With budget talks due in the fall, Frank Comeriato, the assistant city manager of operations, said at least three things will impact the public works budget stormwater maintenance and management; leaf program sustainability; and utility availability and capacity.

Council members will vote on the 2018 budget in December after reviewing departments' needs and the budget numbers.

Stormwater maintenance and management

The staff will be affected by retirement with about nine of the 69 employees eligible to retire in three to five years, Comeriato said.

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Although the staff is using more technology, there is a backload of open work orders for stormwater problems.

"When we get a big downpour, we get a lot of calls," Comeriato said.

But the city staff knows where the problem areas are and checks on them before and during a storm.

"I'm pleased with how the system performs now," Comeriato said. "The water is flowing and going in the right places. Most communities don't do what we do."

Most of the problems are maintenance where a drain or ditch becomes clogged, he said.

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Many of the open orders are because the problem was on private property, and it was up to the owner to fix the problem, Comeriato said. A city employee has to follow up and close the order.

If a homeowner or association doesn't do the work recommended by the city to fix the problem, the city doesn't have the "teeth" to enforce change, said City Manager Jane Howington.

The city staff didn't have good direction on how to handle problems on private property until a policy was developed, she said. The new policy stated city employees can offer technical assistance but can only make improvements on city property.

Council members could look at fines or other ways to make residents comply with issues affecting stormwater, Howington said.

The city needs to prioritize the work, Comeriato said. His department needs to rebuild 25 catch basins but can't do that and track old work orders.

"We may have to do more contract work with stormwater to get a handle on the work," Comeriato said. "We're a year behind in ditches, and we don't have the resources."

Contract workers could become part of the budget if necessary, he said.

Leaf program sustainability

The leaf program began in 2007 with about 12,000 cubic yards of leaves collected in the first season. The amount was steady for a few years but now it exceeds 17,000 cubic yards, Comeriato said.

That increases the costs and makes it difficult on the workers, who have more physical labor during the six-week period for pick-up, he said.

"More folks are using it," Comeriato said. "But more businesses are putting leaves out, and it is not a service for them."

The original program was designed for residential properties only but didn't prohibit businesses. If a business puts its leaves on the curb, the crews have picked them up, and the amount can be huge, Comeriato said.

Howington said the businesses need to be educated and the policy clear that businesses will have to collect and discard their own leaves.

After 10 years, the leaf collection equipment needs to be replaced and two pieces are scheduled per year, said Eric Hutchinson, assistant public works director of service.

He asked for some flexibility in the equipment with a larger unit for fewer emptying times and a smaller one for cul-de-sacs.

Hutchinson also asked for a more flexible schedule to allow city employees to do other duties like patching roads instead of sticking to a strict six-week schedule which is often affected by the weather.

The same work crews and trucks used for leaf pick-up also operate the snow plows, he said.

Utility availability and capacity

The Prospect substation needs to be designed and rebuilt this year for the northwest quadrant of the city's future development, said Kevin Powell, assistant public works director of utilities. The cost would be $2 million, which is in the 2017 budget.

The design for a new substation on Hines Hill Road would cost $500,000.

Although the population of the city hasn't increased, the demands for electrical power have, Powell said.

The city has a power portfolio with about 20 percent sustainable resources such as hydro and solar, Comeriato said. Part of the cost of buying power is in owning the facility and paying the debt portion, he added.

"We were investing in long term investments," Comeriato said. "Some day the debt service will come off."

The transmission cost is huge, Comeriato said. It is out of the city's control.

Council member Casey Weinstein wanted to increase local solar power use.

Comeriato said solar would be part of the discussion on the city's power portfolio at a future date.

Email: lfreeman@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9434

Twitter: @LauraFreeman_RP

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