West Windsor considers shift in snow-plow effort

Dissatisfaction leads to proposal for public works crews to assume more responsibility.

By: Shanay Cadette
   WEST WINDSOR — The township’s public works department may take on more responsibility for plowing snow from West Windsor’s streets in winters to come.
   Council members Monday debated extensively the renewal of the township’s current snow-removal contract with Scheideler Excavating Co. as a result of numerous complaints from residents after the big December snowstorm.
   "We have had many years of you doing a good job," Council President Kristin Appelget told the public works director at the Monday night meeting. "But there was a lot of snow on the road for a long time."
   "This is the first year I can tell you I didn’t even see a plow," said council member Franc Gambatese about his street. "I’ve never seen anything like it in the whole time I’ve been living in West Windsor."
   The council later voted 3-2 to renew its contract with Scheideler. However, council members want to consider other options for future snow-removal needs, including making the public works department responsible for the entire job.
   Under the terms of the 2004 contract, the township will pay up to $80,000 for removal services to Scheideler, a Princeton Junction company.
   Mr. Gambatese, who voted against the contract along with council member Charles Morgan, suggested the township follow in the footsteps of South Brunswick and make the public works department entirely responsible for snow removal.
   "I don’t see why we don’t just do it ourselves and save the $80,000," he said.
   George Spille, the public works director, said the township doesn’t have the manpower to clean the streets alone. Scheideler employees are currently given 60 percent of the roads to clean, while public works employees clear the rest and salt the streets.
   The township has 18 trucks and other smaller vehicles to remove snow, but that’s not enough to take on the job alone, Mr. Spille said. The public works director said up to 17 Scheideler trucks are used, adding the township trucks cannot plow at higher speeds. He also warned the township doesn’t have two crews of workers to switch once a 10-hour shift is complete.
   Despite the remaining piles of snow from the last big storm, Mr. Spille said Scheideler satisfied its requirements for its assigned number of streets. It’s the township that needed Scheideler’s help to finish the rest of the cleanup, he said.
   If the township didn’t have a contractor to share the work, Mr. Spille said, it would have taken close to 80 hours to clear the streets. Whiteout conditions, traffic volume and the time the storm started increased the difficulty of the removal process, he said.
   "We had a lot of cars (on the road). It was really dangerous," Mr. Spille said.
   The township approved Scheideler’s initial bid in 2002, which was the lowest responsible bid at the time, officials said. The council has the option of renewing the three-year contract through 2005. It could choose to end the contract and solicit bids from other vendors, however. Because it’s now the middle of the snow season, council members complained it’s too late to consider any other companies. If a snowstorm happened during the weeks while the council solicited bids, the township would be stuck without an adequate number of trucks and manpower.
   "I can’t afford not to have (Scheideler). We need them for 2004," Mr. Spille said.
   The mayor and council members agreed they will begin talks about snow-removal needs far in advance of the snow season in 2005 to avoid being forced to renew a contract in the middle of winter. They also plan to either consider making the entire job an in-house responsibility or require public works employees to take more of the removal work away from the contractor.
   Also Monday, the council:
   • Delayed its vote for a second time on the settlement agreement between the township and Steiner Development over affordable-housing fees. Steiner wants to build a 749,410-square-foot development, Palladium, at the northeast corner of Route 1 and Meadow Road. An agreement must be reached before construction begins.
   • Approved the transfer of a $75,000 technology grant from Comcast Corp. out of the township’s accounts to the West Windsor Regional School District.
   • Renewed a 2004 interlocal services recycling contract with the Mercer County Improvement Authority with several changes, including the township’s plan to continue to pay its same share for services even if MCIA incurs increased costs with a new vendor.
   • Approved a $102,000 budget transfer resolution to supplement salary and wage accounts, diesel fuel costs, legal fees and the snow-removal account.
   • Voted 3-2 to extend the contract for labor counsel Mark S. Ruderman until the remaining labor union negotiations are finished. Mr. Morgan and Councilwoman Jackie Alberts voted against the extension. The township must still settle contracts with the West Windsor Professional Firefighters Association, Local 3610 of the International Association of Firefighters and the West Windsor Police Benevolent Association Local 271.
   • Approved the continuance of a three-year contract with Princeton Air Conditioning Inc. through December of 2004. The $35,004 yearly contract covers service maintenance at five township buildings.
   • Voted 4-1 to purchase a 2004 Dodge Durango from Warnock Fleet & Leasing to replace an aging vehicle in the division of code enforcement department. The nearly $22,660 vehicle will be mainly used for inspections and visits to construction sites. Council member Gambatese voted against the purchase.
   • Agreed to buy technology equipment not to exceed $222,756 for the police department from Motorola Inc. These funds will be used to upgrade the communications center.
   • Voted 3-2 to purchase four patrol cars from Hertrich Fleet Services, Inc. for $70,063. Council members Gambatese and Alison Miller voted against the purchase.