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County to focus less on plowing unpaved roads

City, county try to cut overtime hours

Routt County plow truck driver Leonard Auter

— The 29 plow trucks operated by the Routt County Road and Bridge Department may be a little harder to spot on the weekends this winter. The department is cutting its overtime budget in half and reducing some of its routes on unpaved county roads.

Road and Bridge Director Paul Draper said that because his 2010 overtime budget was cut from about $60,000 to $30,000, there might be fewer workers available to plow unpaved roads during the weekend.

"I would say the weekend plowing will be primarily limited to the paved road system," Draper said. "In the years past, it's been as personnel are available, but we did plow what was necessary."

Crews will continue to plow all roads as needed from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, keeping with the past schedule, he said. Draper's crew is responsible for 525 miles in the county, and the Colorado Department of Transportation plows Routt County's biggest roads — U.S. Highway 40 and Colorado Highway 131.

Draper said the decision about when to plow and how much snow is too much will be decided on a case-by-case basis by the crews.

"What we don't have is a (set) amount of snowfall" before the plows start, he said, because of the varied elevation in the county and the way weather patterns affect the roads.

"All bets are off when the wind blows because of the drifting," Draper said.

Even if only an inch or so starts blowing heavily, Draper said the crews will start up the trucks to ensure the roads are clear. The county has 20 graders, six full-size plow trucks, three smaller plow trucks and 40 Road and Bridge employees.

Draper said his crews likely will not start plowing before shifts start at 5 a.m., and sometimes the drivers will have to wait until slightly later so that the roads are not snowed over again before area school buses begin their routes.

Comp time encouraged

Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush was quick to point out that department directors still are permitted to authorize overtime as they see fit and give comp time instead for employees to take off in the future. Draper said he plans to use that, too, with employees taking time off in the summer or when the schedule permits.

"In general, we're hoping that all departments that have overtime issues … that department heads manage the overtime," Mitsch Bush said.

She said similar cuts were made in the overtime budgets for other departments that tend to have extra payroll hours, including law enforcement, communications and the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

Mitsch Bush said she had not heard that the overtime budget cut might result in unpaved roads not being plowed as often on weekends because Draper makes those decisions.

"When it comes to plowing, if there's an emergency, that's up to Road and Bridge, she said. "We don't like to micromanage our departments."

City makes plow cuts, too

The Steamboat Springs Public Works Department also will operate with less overtime this season. Department Director Philo Shelton said earlier this week that the department is shifting to a system of three plow shifts, with workers around the clock, to avoid calling in drivers for overtime.

That move will save about $25,000 in the next year, Shelton said. Because the crews would use only two of the five plows — but use those two plows all the time — the city also could possibly sell the other three plows for about $75,000, he said.