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The City Journals

Cottonwood Heights Addresses Snow Plowing Concerns

Jan 28, 2016 03:28PM ● By Bryan Scott

By Cassandra Goff | [email protected]

Cottonwood-Holladay - Cottonwood Heights experienced a record snow storm and additional heavy snowfall during December 2015 and January 2016. Residents have been concerned about the snowplowing service which the privatized company, TerraCare, provides for the city. On Tuesday, Dec. 15, many residents came to a city council meeting to voice their concerns. The council discussed the issues during this meeting, as well as the following meetings on Jan. 5 and 12.

On Dec. 15, a public comment session was held at 7 p.m. in the first floor training room of Cottonwood Heights City Hall. 

Concerned resident, Jonathan Santoro, began this session by saying, “The comment I keep seeing is, ‘Can we please go back to the county?’ If it’s a small amount more in my property taxes, I’d pay it.”

In response to comments about county service, Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore said, “The county is divesting of the snowplowing operations, and they are moving that over to the special service district [next year]. We knew that was in the works, and we were trying to get ahead of that because we knew when they go to the special service district the cost would probably increase significantly. So we made the move to TerraCare. We have a three-and-a-half-year contract with them, so we have this year and next winter also for that contract.”

Cullimore added, “The question is, if we go back over to the county, and they go to a special service district and to start with a new crew, will it be better or will we go through another training cycle like we did with this one? The other option is to simply take it on and do it ourselves.”

“I question the priority list and why cul-de-sacs are last, especially those with hills,” Gene Bosley, concerned resident, said.

The city staff had laid out a priority grid for the roads, with school bus routes and main thoroughfares being priority one roads and residential streets and cul-de-sacs (approximately 370 within the city) being priority four roads. TerraCare works off of this priority system when they go out for snowplowing.

“There are some priorities that were different under the county. Does that mean we can’t change our priorities, does that mean we can’t evolve them? No,” Cullimore said in response. 

“The county would have snow plows coming through at 4:30 or 5 in the morning and I wouldn’t mind that, because I knew the roads would be clean,” concerned resident, Louise Jacobs, said.  

Mindi Novasio, resident, also voiced her concern: “We saw emergency vehicles having trouble getting down our street.” 

“Does the city have a plan to continue the contract with TerraCare after it expires? Will the city consider going back to the county under a contract partnering with this new district after this expires? What is the plan, in place, to avoid a repeat of this in the future?” Chris Bertram, concerned resident, asked. 

“We may have had some misplaced values in thinking that saving money was the most important element for our residents,” Cullimore said in response. 

“We agree. We are not satisfied. We are concerned,” Councilmember Mike Peterson said in response to all the resident comments. 

TerraCare representatives addressed the concerned residents after the comment session. 

“There are some changes we can make. Our staff does work diligently 24 hours a day. When we plow, there are some roads that are snow packed. To remove the ice that’s there, (red salt) has to work, to get loose. It’s not just a two hour turn around,” Justin Stewart, TerraCare representative, explained. 

“Priority one networks take about an hour to get through the network. The drivers typically load up material one to two times a shift which includes a 30-minute turn around,” Steve Bertasso, TerraCare representative, explained.

Over an hour of public comments left just as much time for discussion from the council during the work session meeting held directly after the public comment session. 

 “We need to get more aggressive on parking,” City Manager John Park said. “There’s things we need to do to help them get through the city faster.”

Cullimore had hoped that the hotline set up for snowplowing issues would have been more effective. 

“There’s no hot to hotline, if you’re getting to it five hours late. The minute people think all they have got to do is call their mayor or city councilmen and things happen, that’s all they’re going to do. When you call this hotline, to register your concern, please don’t think they’ll automatically respond to that,” he said.

The concluding statement for this section of the meeting came from Mayor Cullimore. 

“Our job as a city council is to make sure we are meeting the needs of our residents in fiscally constrained ways,” he said. 

On Jan. 5, 2016, time was spent discussing the recent work of TerraCare snowplowing, specifically addressing the storms surrounding and during Dec. 25 and New Year’s Day. 

Cullimore discussed the decision they had made to move to TerraCare a few years prior. 

“It was contemplating what was coming with this new service district and the cost that were going to be incurred as a result of that that we were trying to avoid. At the time, we thought there was an imminent change coming that was going to significantly increase our problem. Our analysis of that service district showed that our costs could at least double, and possibly go higher,” he said. 

“In fairness to TerraCare, the problem is they screwed up so badly on that very first set of storms back three years ago, public perception was set and now we have this huge public perception hill to climb which does not give us even the luxury of common mistakes. We’ve got to find a way to go above and beyond,” Cullimore said.

“There are things that we are doing and changing. We’ve made some adjustments. There were some drivers that performed very well in minor storms that just couldn’t handle the tension in that heavy storm. We had some people that just couldn’t do it. Those people are no longer with us. We’ve made some changes. We’ve moved some people around. We’re investing in a new GPS system [to increase visibility],” Stewart said to the council. 

“With very few exceptions, since the very first storm, the big storm, we have kept the same drivers in the same area, except for where we identified a driver that wasn’t working out. We have made a change,” Steve Bertasso, TerraCare representative, said in response to a question from the council about drivers.  

Councilmember Mike Shelton pointed out that “the priority maps that we thought the county used, they absolutely did not use.”

 Councilmember Tee Tyler concluded with the story of trusted residents calling him to say, “The most desirable thing that they can experience in the winter is to be woken up by a truck backing up across the circle and the flashing lights, they love that. What that is telling them is, we are getting you ready for your commute.”

On Jan. 12, during another work session meeting, snowplowing was discussed. 

“We are in the process of putting the new GPS systems in the trucks. Our trucks will go into this new storm tomorrow night with the new routing in place and the new GPS systems on the trucks, so we should be able to provide some better feedback on where we have been and [better feedback on when we will get to parts of the city],” Bertasso said.

TerraCare has been working with Cottonwood Heights City Council and staff to address the issues that arose within the first major storm to perfect the snowplowing service for the city. Cottonwood Heights city council and staff, as well as many residents, have seen improvements in this service since the first major storm in 2015.