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Cheektowaga troubles filling snow plow overtime

Posted at 3:04 PM, Dec 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-28 18:38:09-05

The Cheektowaga Town Supervisor says a nearly decade old political fight is making roads in the town more dangerous this winter.

"By the time  they were out on the roads it was 10 o'clock Sunday morning," said Town of Cheektowaga Supervisor Diane Benczkowski.  "There were a lot of accidents."

She was describing icy road conditions from December 18 that caused several accidents in the town and had her fielding phone calls from angry community members.

The issue?  Finding enough plow truck drivers to take the overtime hours needed to salt the roads that morning.

"The first call out we were looking for nine, we always go with a nine truck scheme," said Town of Cheektowaga Highway Superintendent Mark Wegner.  "We got six trucks."

Later in the day when the rain started freezing over, Wegner was able to get 8 trucks salting roads.

With a lake effect snow storm blowing through earlier in the week, Wegner said many drivers had been putting in overtime hours and were too tired to come in Sunday morning.

Benczkowski introduced a resolution to the Town Council that would put the sanitation department under the Highway Superintendent's supervision.  That's how it operated from 1999 to 2007.  But the resolution was voted down 4 to 3.

According to Benczkowki, the sanitation department was only separated in 2007 because of town politics.  She said some councilmembers were unhappy Wegner was elected and created the split to give authority of the sanitation department to Frank Max.

"I think it was political back in 2007 and I think this vote two weeks ago was political also," she said.

Benczkowski said giving supervision of the sanitation department to the Highway Superintendent would allow Wegner to call on sanitation drivers with plow experience after exhausting the call list.

Councilmember Jerry Kaminski said the resolution wouldn't allow that to happen.  He said it's not allowed to swap workers between departments and "it's plainly written in the contracts".

Kaminski said the only way to allow sanitation drivers to operate plows would be to renegotiate union contracts, something he thinks is unlikely at this time.

Kaminski also worries about how safe it is to have sanitation drivers operating plows if they haven't been doing so on a regular basis for years.

Still, Wegner is meeting with union officials Thursday to see if they can agree to allow the Highway Department to call on other qualified drivers for overtime after calling all plow drivers on their lists.