Wintry Mix

The snow was replaced by ice and cold rain yesterday as another winter blast moved into Pulaski County and caused roadways to become slushy and slick.

Through first the snow, then the wind, the ice and the slush ... local municipalities have kept moving.

This week’s stretch of brutal winter weather has been tough on both the City of Somerset and Pulaski County Governments, the two largest such entities in the county. Some employees have stayed home, while others have worked around the clock to keep citizens safe.

And then there’s the unexpected costs.

“The amount of overtime and additional fuel are the main things in terms of cost for Somerset,” said the city’s mayor, Eddie Girdler. “Because we’re a smaller city, we won’t be like the county or (how it is) nationwide. We do save some costs by other departments (not operating due to the weather) not using gasoline or diesel.”

That said, the extra hours and fuel used by trucks out clearing the roadways could cost the city a ballpark maximum of $20,000, said Girdler.

Girdler said that the city tried to do business early in the week, its offices opening Tuesday after the foot-deep snow dumped on the town Monday, and again on Wednesday. However, “when we saw the weather forecast and the snow began to fall Wednesday morning, we let everybody go except essential personnel.”

That “essential” group includes police, EMS and firefighters, as well as water, sewer, and natural gas personnel.

Other full-time city employees were able to take the snow days off if they couldn’t get in, and still be compensated. When asked if the essential personnel still working would be able to get their time off later after the storm has cleared, Girdler sounded positive about that happening.

“We will try to accommodate them in the future if they need time off,” he said. “We’re a little bit unique in the fact that ... some of those services have to continue. We didn’t plan for a 15-inch snowfall. (Those employees) are making special exceptions. Sometimes they have to make special considerations for their families and children. In the future, we’ll try to accommodate their needs and give them other opportunities to take off.

“My position is that even though we do let people off for safety and other reasons, this is their job,” Girdler added. “As long as they were able to make it in and safely, we asked them to show up to work if at all possible.”

Girdler said that that the city has been working closely with local businesses that have tried to stay open to meet their production standards, so as to clear paths and allow employees to get there.

“We’ve been dealing all week with manufacturing businesses because they don’t shut down and they’ve got deadlines to meet,” said Girdler. “We’ve been working with UGN, the (Lake Cumberland Regional) Hospital. About 60 to 70 percent of their workforce has continued to work every day. They had to do business as usual (and) we try to accommodate them in any way possible.

“We made three or four special trips (to the UGN factory) and were in communication daily to meet their needs,” he added. “... We made a special effort to take care of restaurants’ needs.”

Girdler said that the city has utilized every backhoe it has to clear snow, from every city department that has one. About 10 to 15 pieces of city equipment are out at any given time and most, fortunately, are in effective operating condition, said Girdler.

“Yesterday, (county government) called us about getting a special shipment of food in for God’s Pantry,” said Girdler. “We had to send a backhoe down to clear their parking lot so they could get in.”

Other concerns have been less pressing.

“(Thursday), we had a guy come from Richmond wanting to buy a water park pass,” said Girdler with a laugh. “He wasn’t happy because we weren’t open either. The guy got irate that we weren’t selling them.”

County government offices have tried to stay open, though they have not always been successful, according to Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley. Despite trying to open Wednesday, most of the offices have remained closed all week. The judicial offices were closed, but the County Court Clerk's office was open on Friday, he said.

Even if the offices were open, staff was not required to make it into work if it would have been hazardous for them. “We tried to be lenient with them,” Kelley said.

He added that those who couldn't work this week did not automatically receive pay for their time off, but they were able to use personal time to be compensated if they decided.

The essential personnel, road crews and first responders, were giving everything they had to keep up with demand. “Equipment are taking a beating and crews are taking a beating,” Kelley said. Efforts were hampered by snowplows and other vehicles breaking down.

But Kelley still saw a bright side. He stated that as of Friday he had heard of no major emergencies or casualties as a result of the storm. He gave thanks to the Pulaski County Sheriff's Department, local fire departments and Somerset-Pulaski County EMS for that.

“Everyone who is a first responder has gone above and beyond this week,” he said.