GOSHEN — Contracts for snow plowing are expected to cost the county about $600,000 this winter, though officials say it’s a savings over doing the work in-house.
The Elkhart County Commissioners approved a stack of contracts with individuals and companies for plowing county roads and in subdivisions. Transportation Manager Charlie McKenzie listed two contractors for the numbered roads out in the county and 17 contractors for the subdivisions.
It was an unwelcome reminder for the board that the first snowfall of the season isn’t that far away.
“Yeah, it’s here,” McKenzie told the commissioners.
He said contractors receive $75 an hour for subdivisions, which is unchanged from last winter. Drivers for the numbered roads receive market rate, which is about $120 an hour.
McKenzie said after the meeting that the snow removal contracts average a total cost of about $600,000 a year, though last winter was closer to $900,000. He said he expects this season, which will be paid largely out of the 2020 budget, to be more average.
“We do not have any better idea of what winter will look like this year than anyone else, unfortunately. Although I wish we did,” he said. “The best we can do is have systems and processes in place to handle whatever situation comes in the best way possible.”
It would cost significantly more for the highway department to keep that many drivers on staff, he said.
“To have that many employees in-house, year-round, you’re looking at $60,000 to $70,000 per person,” McKenzie said. “It’s more cost effective to have the staff for our year-round operations.”
And while the county does hire seasonal staff in addition to contractors, he said it’s not nearly enough to cover what the contractors handle in the subdivisions.
Department staff and trucks are used mostly for numbered county roads, where they keep up with about 20 regular routes, while contractors are hired for four routes.
“The difference is the truck,” he said. “Plowing subdivisions usually has a three-quarter-ton pickup truck. Plowing main roads, you’re gonna need a big truck with a body blade, you’re gonna need spreading material, that sort of thing.”
When there’s a snowfall emergency that requires a quick response, McKenzie said a call goes out to everyone on the list and a contractor has to be able to respond to the area within an hour. He said the drivers are assigned to subdivisions within each township, and every township has a foreman to whom the drivers report.
“The foreman’s job is to track their hours and make sure everything’s accurate,” he said. “So they report directly to their area foreman.”