Monday, January 30, 2012

Committee discusses snow-removal options, looks for legal basis for county to provide free service

By Martha Groppo
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The city council’s Streets and Lights Committee weighed options for snow removal and questioned the legality of the county’s decision to stop paying for the service at a meeting this morning.

The agenda included cost of purchasing equipment for the city, the possibility of finding an independent contractor and the various risks and costs associated with the different options, but the three council members decided that their best course of action was to wait for service estimates and further legal advice – and to hope for no more snow and bills from the county in the meantime.

“Before we start incurring that expense,” Dan Roller said, I’d like to know that it’s our legal obligation to do that.”

Roller questioned the legality of the county’s decision to end free snow removal, which city officials learned of on Jan. 11, shortly before a snowfall. At last week’s fiscal court meeting, Judge-Executive John Coyle cited Midway’s new fourth-class status as the reason for ending snow removal services in Midway after 30 years.

“That was really the only argument, he had: the classification,” said Committee Chair Aaron Hamilton, right (file photo).

Roller cited the “fifths formula” used to determine the local use of state highway funds as a possible reason the county might be legally obligated to pay for snow removal with money it receives from the state.

UPDATE: Actually, the money the county gets from the state for local roads must be used on county roads, not city streets, unless the city and county have an interlocal agreement that is approved by the state, said Rick Long, executive director of rural and municipal aid in the state Transportation Cabinet. The two governments have no such agreement.

“There’s nothing in the classification that says if you go to fourth class, the county is going to stop cleaning your roads,” Turner said. She also said Versailles should technically be a third-class city, making the fiscal court’s argument that it needed to treat the county’s two fourth-class cities, Midway and Versailles, the same, problematic.

Technically, fourth-class cities are supposed to have between 3,000 and 8,000 people, but the legislature has often ignored that rule since it and voters approved an amendment that took the population figures out of the state constitution.

Committee members decided to attempt to seek legal advice before Hamilton and Mayor Tom Bozarth’s 2 p.m. meeting with Coyle about the snow removal issue.

This afternoon’s meeting was scheduled via a series of emails after last week’s heated fiscal court meeting. Midway Magistrate Larry Craig and the Woodford County engineer are also scheduled to attend. “We’ll see how this meeting goes this afternoon with Judge Coyle,” Hamilton said.

In the meantime, the council discussed the possibility of purchasing its own equipment for next winter. Though the city owns a dump truck, it does not have four-wheel drive, making a new vehicle a necessity before Midway can do its own snow removal. Jack Kain Ford provided an estimate, pricing a new 4x4 heavy duty pick-up truck at $35,200.

“We don’t have enough roads to hardly justify the cost of having our own equipment,” Roller said, but added that depending on the winter, the equipment could pay for itself in a few years. The county’s initial bill for snow removal on one January day, waived at last week’s fiscal court meeting, totaled $1,233.

“If we had a winter like last winter, what would the bill be?” Hamilton asked. “In five years you could use up $35,000,” Hamilton said.

City Clerk-Treasurer Phyllis Hudson pointed out one problem with buying new equipment: “If we buy one truck and it breaks down, we have nothing to rely on.”

Commercial driver’s license requirements, potential changes in city insurance costs and liability issues were also discussed. Beyond buying a new truck, the committee discussed the possibility of buying used or surplus equipment or asking local farms with large equipment if they would be interested in getting some additional revenue by removing snow. Local contractors are another option.

Members decided that the summer months were the best time to purchase snow removal equipment. “We need time to work through this,” said Turner, the mayor pro tem.

For now, committee members seemed glad they have the snow removal covered through the county, even if the city has to pay for it.

“We’re going to have to contract with somebody just to get through,” Turner said. “My main goal is to make sure we’re covered.”

Roller said, “I would think contracting with them [the county] would be as cheap as any.”

The possibility of not treating several miles of largely unused roads from Midway Station was discussed as a way to reduce the county’s fee. At last week’s Fiscal Court meeting, there were questions about whether the county serviced all the streets it should have earlier this month and whether Bozarth had provided a complete list of streets to be serviced.

Turner (left, file photo) said she did not know the details, but did know that the county had since been given an updated list, and that the county had missed the Northridge subdivision in its last removal, even though it was on the original list.

Another issue that came up from last week’s fiscal court meeting was Bozarth’s assertion that he thought the county would have stopped paying for snow removal even if Midway’s status had not changed. Coyle denied that after the meeting, saying he couldn't imagine that happening.

“I think regardless of classification, they would have still found a way,” Turner said. When asked why she believed this, Turner said there was a trend in the county charging for services such as recycling and police. “We’re paying for more and more every day,” she said.

Hamilton agreed: “This is just something that gave them more leeway.”

The committee agreed to meet once it gets more information that could help make a decision about long-term removal. “We can’t expect it to be this pretty for the rest of winter,” Hamilton said. “I keep praying we don’t get a big snow.”

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