After a year of blizzards, earthquakes, and hurricanes, it’s almost painful to focus on other weather-related challenges; but early preparation is always helpful, so New Rochelle is looking ahead now to the snow season.

As you probably recall, last winter was very tough on our city and on our region as a whole. I think most residents recognize that when you have record-breaking snowfall, even the best municipal operation will encounter problems — but last winter, there was certainly room for improvement.

The City’s new Commissioner of Public Works, Alex Tergis, spent a great deal of time examining our field operations and procedures, with an eye to making positive changes. Here’s what we can and will do in the short-term:

  • Guide and Track Operations — DPW is generating new route maps with priorities, responsibilities, and challenging locations more clearly defined. These route maps will also contain checklists to facilitate a seamless transition between shifts and help supervisors better monitor operations.
  • Consolidate Information — The City will establish a single phone number to which snow comments, complaints, and requests can be directed. This will help minimize the redundancy and occasional confusion that result when information is received and relayed by multiple parties.
  • Provide Better Training & Instruction — New drivers have acquired an understanding of the importance of plowing closer to the curb line and of regulating salt usage more efficiently, instructions that will be reiterated by supervisors.

These relatively simple steps should make a difference, but I want to be very candid in acknowledging that there are other serious challenges that can only be solved in the medium or long term. What are these challenges?

First, inadequate equipment. We currently press sanitation trucks into double-duty as snow plows, but these vehicles are not really designed for such a purpose and cannot be equipped with salt spreaders. Further, much of our fleet is aging and prone to breaking down. Our snow operations would clearly benefit from the purchase of new vehicles and plows.

Second, strained manpower. Like every other major City department, DPW has been reduced by attrition in recent years, with personnel levels cut as a necessary response to fiscal and economic conditions. During prolonged snow emergencies, our manpower is spread exceptionally thin, and our ability to put a full complement of services into the field often compromised.

Well, you can guess why these problems will be difficult to address in the short-term: a big price tag at a time when all cities are scraping for pennies. For now, our intent — and our responsibility — is to do the very best we can with the resources available. Plus offer fervent prayers for an easier winter!