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January 25, 2012
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County roads manager: and#8216;Room for improvement' exists with Incline snow removal

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The Washoe County Roads Department understands there is a “learning curve” and some “room for improvement” regarding snow removal service levels to Incline Village during strong winter storms, an official said.

All Wednesday morning, Bill Oroszi, manager of the county roads division, met with officials from the county sheriff's office and public works department, along with three regional roads supervisors and the entire operating crew involved with storm events in Incline Village.

“We wanted to identify some of the obstacles with the storm and improve on them moving forward,” said Oroszi. He said his office had received complaints from some residents regarding service levels during and after the recent winter storm that dumped about four feet of snow in the area.

One of the issues identified Wednesday, Oroszi said, is the new supervisor for the Incline area — Rich Thompson — isn't used to the severity of storms that can strike here.

“He's going to have to get acclimated more to the area and the timing of these winter storms,” said Oroszi, a 25-year veteran of the county roads department.

In fall 2011, Washoe County commissioners approved a nearly $2 million cut to the public works department, which led to a reduction to 10 workers (one supervisor and nine operators) responsible for 11 snow removal routes this winter in Incline/Crystal Bay. This is different than 2010-'11, when 11 operators controlled the routes.

According to the county, the nine operators have previously worked high-elevation storms and cumulatively have more than 150 years of snow removal and road maintenance experience.

Despite the experience, the lost employee was Dick Minto, who had managed snow removal operations in Incline for many years, meaning the recent storm was the first time in a while a non-Minto-led crew worked a storm.

While the Incline operators worked just as hard as previous years, Oroszi said it was clear from Wednesday's discussion that communication can be improved for future storms.

“Some operators felt we could have spent more time up there (clearing snow), but some of those concerns weren't necessarily communicated well to the supervisor,” Oroszi said. “Moving forward, we discussed ways to improve that.”

The county began prepping for the storm last Wednesday, Oroszi said. The first big wave hit hard Friday, and some operators (including the two who live here) were on Incline roads as early as 5 a.m. Saturday. In all, Incline operators used a total of 11.5 hours of overtime that day. On Monday, crews were on the roads for about 16 hours, he said.

While overtime throughout county staff is controlled as much as possible due to budget cuts over the years, Oroszi said that “anytime public safety is involved, the overtime portion is a non-issue. It's the cost of doing business.”

According to previous reports, to deal with the budget crunch, the county plows roads based on priority. Streets are divided into three priorities:

Priority 1: Arterial and collector streets, school routes and bus routes.

Priority 2: Secondary arterial, secondary collectors, residential routes and remaining school bus routes.

Priority 3: Cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets, industrial streets.

Furthermore, to curtail overtime, some Priority 2 and Priority 3 roads are not plowed outside of regular working hours, which are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“It just comes down to the fact we have a limited number of labor hours to dedicate to a storm event. It's just not possible to sustain a 24-hour service,” Oroszi said Wednesday. “Regardless, our policy is to ensure every road has a pass in and a pass out.”

An acceptable pass, he said, is at the least providing room for a single lane of traffic to be able to pass and also have room for a pedestrian to traverse the same route.

“There was some confusion as to what constitutes (an acceptable pass), as some operators have different ideas,” Oroszi said. “I think this is where we have that learning curve.”

While he understands people — especially those living in Priority 3 areas — get frustrated with snow removal service, Oroszi said the public's safety was never in danger during the storm.

“I guarantee there was no difference in the effort put forth from all our operators,” he said. “The effort was consistent and heartfelt.”

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jan 25, 2012 11:20PM Published Jan 25, 2012 06:39PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.