Casper spent $1.4 million plowing snow last winter; city considering cost saving measures - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Casper spent $1.4 million plowing snow last winter; city considering cost saving measures

A snowplow moves through Center Street in downtown Casper on Wednesday, March 14, 2019 during a heavy snowstorm in Casper. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — The City of Casper spent about $1.4 million on snow operations between fall 2019 and spring 2020, according to city staff. That included $1,040,819 on plowing and de-icing and $369,303 on snow clean-up.

The Casper City Council was presented with several options that could potentially save the city some money on snow plowing and removal this winter during their Tuesday, Sept. 22 work session.

Exact savings are difficult to determine since a main factor in costs is how much snow falls in Casper. Staff note in a memo that the city spent $2.2 million between fall 2015 and spring 2016, equal to about $4,453 per lane mile. That cost was reduced to about $2,900 per lane mile in 2019-2020 “by managing shifts and snow-melt applications.”

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Under the City Streets Division’s current operating model, snow is plowed to the side of the streets when there is less than four inches or when snow falls prior to Dec. 1 and after March 15. This allows streets to dry faster.

When there are four or more inches of snow or between Dec. 1 and March 15, snow is plowed to the middle of streets (not all streets) in order to accommodate emergency vehicles and public traffic after a snowstorm. With larger snow accumulations, this minimizes impact to residential and commercial driveways and storm drains.

In order to possibly save costs, staff presented council with the following three options:

Councilman Ken Bates said that the Farmer’s Almanac has predicted a more severe winter in terms of overall snowfall for the area. Bates said he didn’t think this was the time to consider cutting into such services.

Councilman Ray Pacheco said, however, that the city is facing a tough economic outlook and said that they would “have to make cuts somewhere.” Pacheco said he might prefer seeing cuts to snow plowing services to something like cutting city jobs.

He asked City Manager Carter Napier which, if any, of the cost saving options presented he would prefer to see.

Napier said he would recommend considering moving from 12 hour shifts to 10 hour shifts in order to save some money on overtime pay costs. He noted that this wouldn’t save the city a huge amount, it “does give us somewhere to start.”

“We have to make cuts somewhere,” Pacheco said. “I think we should consider it and so I’m in support of that.”

Councilman Steve Cathey said that he thought the city should consider cutting snow plow services to save costs. He said the topic came up in 2016 when he was on council and he was one of only two on council in favor of reducing plow miles.

“We spend a heck of a lot of money on plowing snow,” Cathey said.

He asked Napier whether reducing the amount of streets which get plowed by 25% would be a viable option.

Napier said he was concerned that this approach would be “tantamount to cutting back the service.” He said he expected the city would receive blowback from people in areas where streets would no longer be plowed.

Vice Mayor Khrystyn Lutz said that cutting back on the number of streets being plowed could “potentially ruin somebody’s life.” She noted that plowed streets allow people to get to work, school and to access medical care services.

“I don’t think that’s a wise path for us to go down,” she said.

As to the option to plow snow to the side of street, Mayor Steve Freel said that while that might save the city some money in the short-term, it could cause curb and gutter issues which the city might “end up paying out in construction season after the winter.”

Councilman Mike Huber said that plowing streets is both a safety and an economic issue. He said that when streets are slick, more crashes can occur which can then “affect everybody’s insurance rates.”

While Huber said he didn’t necessarily think cutting snow plow services was a good idea, he asked whether the city has looked at adopting a “snow route system.” He explained that this would be a system which would require people to move their cars off of certain routes if there is a snowstorm in order to provide emergency access.

Streets and Traffic Manager Shad Rodgers said that this was tried 10-15 years ago on the Second Street corridor. However, he said the rule “wasn’t enforced very strongly” and therefore wasn’t very productive.

Huber asked whether such a policy would reduce costs. Rodgers said he didn’t have an estimate available to show whether the proposal would save costs.

Mayor Steve Freel, who previously served with the Casper Police Department, said that an issue when Casper had rules requiring people to move vehicles off of streets when it snows was that law enforcement had to spend a lot of time trying to contact vehicle owners to get them to move their vehicles.

If they were unable to contact vehicle owners, police would have to call in multiple tow trucks. While he said he understood the concept, Freel said it would be time consuming for police officers who have other important matters to attend to.

Napier recommended the city begin by looking at cutting back shifts from 12 hours to 10 hours. The city council indicated their support for moving forward with that option.

Rogers noted during the meeting that the city may see some cost savings on the purchase of ice-melt this winter. He said that for the first time, the Streets Division went through the state bidding process which “saved us $25-40 a ton from what we were paying before.”

He noted that the city typically uses about 300 tons of ice-melt per year.

Bates asked whether ice-melt is essential and whether the city could cut back on the amount of ice-melt they use.

Rogers said that salters are already calibrated to put down “the bare minimum” amount of ice-melt to make ice melt from the streets. He said there isn’t more the city could do to their equipment to reduce the amount of material used.

Councilman Bob Hopkins suggested that in the long-term, the city consider implementing infrastructure to recycle ice-melt.

He said that would require several settling ponds in the city and infrastructure to direct melting water to these ponds. If in place, the city would be able to recycle some of the salt.

“It ends up in the river the way we do it now,” Hopkins said. “It’s going to take time. We will have salt water left.”

Hopkins said that he brought the idea up before, but that it didn’t seem to gain traction.

If you would like to contact members of the Casper City Council regarding this or any other issue, here is their contact information:

Mayor Steve Freel (Ward III, Term expires 1/3/23):

Vice Mayor Khrystyn Lutz (Ward I, Term expires 1/3/23):

Councilman Charlie Powell (Ward II, Term Expires 1/5/21):

Councilman Shawn Johnson (Ward II, Term expires 1/3/23):

Councilman Ken Bates (Ward II, Term expires 1/5/21):

Councilman Steve Cathey (Ward III, Term Expires 1/5/21):

Councilman Bob Hopkins (Ward I, Term expires 1/5/21):

Councilman Mike Huber (Ward I, Term expires 1/5/21):

Councilman Ray Pacheco (Ward III, Term expires 1/3/23):

Council members can also be reached by mail at: 200 N. David Street, 82601

If you would like to contact members in your specific ward, but don’t know which ward you are in, a map is available at the City of Casper’s website.