Nov. 17 2010 12:00 AM

Snow standards are set and the garage looks efficient

Tuesday, Nov. 16 — The Lansing City Council met briefly on Monday to recognize 42-year Lansing resident and president of the Colonial Village Neighborhood Association Anita Beavers.

Beavers, who retired as a nurse in 1996, served on the association board for 10 years —seven as president.

Being the only business Monday on the Council’s agenda, Beavers’ ceremony was followed by the Committee of the Whole meeting, which discussed the latest draft of snow removal standards and also a breakdown of cost savings related to the planned consolidated service garage.

The latest version of the snow standards stipulates that tax rolls will be updated monthly, rather than every two months, so that means property owners will be notified sooner that they have been charged for snow removal. The major enforcement provision of the new ordinance is to bill people through property taxes.

This was the sole concession made by Chad Gamble, director of the Public Services Department. He presented the first draft two weeks ago at Committee of the Whole and the Council asked him to expand upon it.

Some Council members wanted to see a minimum depth at which citizens had to remove their snow, a clear definition of a “weather event” and a written commitment by the city to be the first to clear its sidewalks.

First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt asked Gamble to address the issue of snow piled from plow trucks on sidewalks, which is not included in the standards.

Gamble said public service employees are being trained to keep that from happening. The standards say residents are responsible for clearing snow that is inadvertently placed on sidewalks from plow trucks.

To the “magical accumulation number,” Gamble said he has spoken with other municipalities with minimum depths that said, “It’s a nightmare to enforce.”

When prodded by At-Large Council members Carol Wood and Brian Jeffries about what residents should tell their hired snowplow drivers when leaving town — because the standards do not go in depth about when a “weather event” is — Gamble said that’s a “business decision” each resident needs to make.

“I would tell them to keep snow from accumulating on the sidewalk,” he added.

“We need to tell people things that are reasonable,” Jeffries responded. “And that’s not reasonable.”

City Council President A’Lynne Robinson suggested that “weather events” be announced over the city’s Nixle system, like snow days for school.

“That gives us a uniform way of communicating: ‘This is a snow event,’” she said.

None of this discussion satisfied Wood, who worries the Council’s suggestions for the set of standards has fallen on deaf ears.

“So, we’ve been given these standards, (we) made a number of suggestions, only one has been applied and you say ‘thank you’ and that’s it?” Wood asked.

Essentially, yes. Gamble agreed to come back before the Council shortly after the first snow event to update them on how the new ordinance is playing out. But these standards are “not necessary for Council’s approval,” Finance Director Jerry Ambrose noted.

Two Council regulars announced during the public comment period their addresses, followed by a promise that they would not remove snow from their sidewalks this winter, at least until the plows cleared their road.

In other business, the Committee of the Whole heard another cost-savings presentation from Dick Peffley, executive director of water and special projects at the Lansing Board of Water and Light, on the planned consolidated service garage.

The Council had come up with a set of 12 questions following Peffley’s presentation two weeks ago to the committee, basically asking for a detailed business plan of how the city would save money.

It appears more than they had originally planned.

A 2005 study predicted savings of roughly $1 million annually through job cuts, inventory reductions and the sale of two surplus properties. Now, Peffley says the city may save nearly $25 million over the next 20 years because of 11 fewer jobs than what was initially planned for in 2005.

The 2005 report predicted 38 staffers were needed to operate a single unified garage, but only 27 work there now.

The total cost to consolidate the two service garages — the Central Garage near the Cooley Law School Stadium will be housed at the Service Garage near Cedar and South streets — is about $4.2 million. Of that, $3.2 million will be paid for through bonds, while the other $1 million will come out of the city’s motor vehicle fund.

The city is also exploring the option of sharing vehicles with BWL, but those negotiations still need to be “worked out” by the City Attorney’s office.

Consolidation efforts started materializing after the city planned its new single-stream recycling program. Single-stream does not require a sorting facility, which is at the Service Garage at 525 E. South St. That opened up space for combining the fleet from the Central Garage with the Service Garage.

The Council agreed Oct. 25 to sell a third garage, the Oak Park Field Office at 717 E. Shiawassee St. used by the Parks and Recreation Department, to Neogen Corp. for $200,000.