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No business like snow business

Private, county snow plowers already have been busy this season

Published: Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Jessica Bourque – jbourque@shawmedia.com)
The City of Morris's plows saw a lot of action with last week's snowstorm but sat stationary in the public works garage on Thursday. The less the plows are used, the more money is saved on diesel fuel for the city.
Caption
(Jessica Bourque – jbourque@shawmedia.com)
Snow plow driver Dan Schreiner gets inside one of the City of Morris' large plows. Paying snow drivers for their overtime hours is a source of added cost for local governments this time of year.

MORRIS – A whiter winter means better business for local snow plow companies that saw work slow down last year with low snowfall amounts.

“We need a year where it really snows,” said Tim Wallace of Tim Wallace Snowplow Supply in Bolingbrook and Minooka. “[This year] started off quite a bit busier than last year, but whether it will continue, who knows.”

In 2012, total snowfall in the Chicago area was 17.3 inches, which is below the average of 19 inches, according to the National Weather Service’s Annual Climate Report.

Wallace – who has been in business since 1984 – said his company works with retailers and industrial companies that need their premises plowed for employees and customers. Wallace said he is proactive in his plowing, constantly watching the weather to see if he and his crews need to head out.

“We do all of the decision-making, so they’re not waiting for us. If I think there’s a need, we go,” Wallace said. “If they’re calling me, then I’m not doing my job of being there.”

The schedule can be demanding, often requiring plowers to work on Christmas and in the early-morning hours.

“We’re ready to go whenever we need to,” Wallace said.

Wallace, like many other snowplow businesses, sells supplies and does landscaping work in the summers to help offset the seasonal shortage of snow.

But what is good for snow plow companies can be expensive for local municipalities in charge of plowing public roads. Local governments have to buy extra supplies and labor when the area sees above-average snowfall amounts.

“Overtime, fuel and labor costs are all things you’ve got to look at,” Grundy County Engineer Craig Cassem said. “Fuel can be quite a bit of money. It takes a lot to push that snow around.”

Grundy County has seven large plows operated by a handful of full-time maintenance employees who have to plow roughly 138 miles of county roads every snowfall.

The city of Morris has six large plows that work to clear city streets curb to curb within 12 hours after snowfall has stopped.

“Normally, we don’t get out before Christmas too much, but we’ve been out about four times this year already,” Morris Director of Public Works Jim Gretencord said. “It started a bit earlier than usual.”

Since city and county plowers are full-time employees who work year-round – filling the off-season with other maintenance projects – overtime pay can be a large expense, Cassem said.

Cassem said if a winter gets too snowy for the county’s seven plows and staff, “snowbirds,” or independent plowing businesses, are hired to help clear the roads, which is another cost to the highway department.

Most of the money for county snow plowing does not come from the general fund but from the highway fund, which generates its fees and has its own levies, Cassem said.

“We don’t generally, but we’ve been over budget before,” Cassem said. “If we go over, then we might have to cut back on a road project or something like that.”

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