City takes pre-emptive approach to winter road maintenance
By Carley Dangona
WESTFIELD – The city takes proactive measures each year to ensure the winter season doesn’t inhibit driving conditions.
Each winter brings an unpredictable amount of snow that the Department of Public Works (DPW) must clear from the roadway to ensure the safety of drivers and pedestrians alike. In Westfield, Mayor Daniel Knapik uses remaining funds to compensate for any DPW budget shortfalls that come about as a result of winter weather.
“We’re prepared for whatever comes our way,” DPW Director Jim Mulvenna told Reminder Publications. He credited the ability to deficit spend as a main factor in enabling the DPW to do its work.
According to Massachusetts General Law Chapter 44, Section 31D, municipalities are allowed to deficit spend in order to meet the snow and ice removal needs of a community.
The law states, “Any city or town may incur liability and make expenditures in any fiscal year in excess of available appropriations for snow and ice removal, provided that such expenditures are approved by the town manager and the finance or advisory committee in a town having a town manager, by the selectmen and the finance or advisory committee in any other town, by the city manager and the city council in a city having a city manager or by the mayor and city council in any other city; provided, however, that the appropriation for such purposes in said fiscal year equaled or exceeded the appropriation for said purposes in the prior fiscal year. Expenditures made under authority of this section shall be certified to the board of assessors and included in the next annual tax rate.”
Mulvenna estimated that this year’s expenditures are $750,000 to $800,000 more than the allotted $450,000 fiscal year budget. He said that this excess was due to the fact that the snowstorms were 24 to 28-hour events, whereas in other years such as 2011 and 2012 the “storms came in and were gone” dumping a large amount of snow at once.
Knapik explained that Westfield does not rely on special appropriations to cover the cost of snow and ice removal, but instead uses residual monies from the city budget that were not utilized during the fiscal year.
“Typically, it has been the tradition that on April 1 or whereabouts, we cover the costs within our operating budget,” Knapik said, adding that he’s never had to make an appropriation to cover the expenses since he became mayor.
Mulvenna jokingly added that many times he’s thought of working in another department when in the middle of the snow season. As for this year, “I think it’s the same for everyone else – enough is enough,” he said.
“People need to have patience, it is New England,” Knapik said. He stated that some streets that are shaded and have less traffic than main roads and might appear as if they have not been taken care of, but that the DPW is indeed attending to all roads in the city.
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