WILLIAMS, Ariz. - City council members and city staff fielded numerous calls and complaints last week after city officials implemented a new snow removal method during Williams' first large snowfall of the season Jan. 4 - 8.
In the past, city workers moved snow on the 44 miles of city streets by plowing the snow into a berm in the middle of the street and removing it by dump truck. During the Jan. 4 - 8 snow event, the city plowed the snow to the sides of the street and in the process buried numerous cars, driveways and sidewalks.
"I think this year's plowing was the best I've seen as far as opening up the road," said resident Glenna Christiansen. "But I have five children who are supposed to be walking when the bus can't get to our house... and they don't have a safe sidewalk to walk on and are forced to walk in the road."
According to Williams City Manager Brandon Buchanan, the old method of plowing presented several problems. The berms left on the side streets was a hazard to drivers and pedestrians, and the removal of the berms cost the city several thousand dollars each storm.
"I know it's a change for our citizens who have grown accustom to plowing it to the middle and hauling it," Buchanan said. "But there's a lot of reasons why we needed to give this a try."
Buchanan said the new plowing method saved the city about $15,000 during the latest snow event. He said removal of the berms would have taken several weeks and the city saved on fuel and overtime costs by moving the snow to the side of the streets instead.
Despite having city ordinances that require residents to move their vehicles from city streets and clear their sidewalks after a snowstorm, dozens of vehicles were left on the street and many sidewalks were left unshoveled.
"Is the city going to ever enforce these ordinances?" Christiansen asked.
Williams Police Chief Herman Nixon said residents need to follow city ordinances but the police department needs to use common sense when enforcing the ordinances.
"I counted the houses between Fifth Street and Slagel and there's 16 actual residential homes and only four have parking," Nixon said. "The rest have to park on the street. But then there are also 21 and 25 year olds out here who didn't do their sidewalks."
The problem was compounded with freezing temperatures following the snowfall, which left many of the berms frozen solid and difficult to remove by shovel.
"The mailman can't get over the berm," said Guidance Center employee Daniel Sanders. "We're chipping this away so he can get through. It's not very good, maybe the plow guy was brand new to the circuit, I don't know."
City council members convened at their Jan. 14 regular meeting and listened to citizen comments and discussed the situation. The councilmen said they received hundreds of calls regarding the snowstorm and plowing methods. Many of the residents were surprised by the new method and weren't prepared to find their car buried on the street.
"We need to let (residents) know what is going to happen," said council member Frank McNelly.
"I think if we did handle anything improperly I wish we would have got the notice out there sooner that we were going to try to do this," Buchanan said. "I think we've all gotten kind of spoiled by it but as some point we have to realize it's costing us a lot of money and causing too many other issues."
Council members created a committee to deal with the situation that will convene on Jan. 19. The group will include the public works director, a plow employee, a city councilmember, the police chief, senior citizens and anyone else interested in helping with the plowing situation. They hope to come up with a plan that will be flexible for a variety of situations.
According to Williams Mayor John Moore, some people liked the new plowing method.
"I've heard from a number of constituents who said they liked it very well, some who didn't like it very well," Moore said.
Councilman Don Dent said he received more than 30 negative phone calls and just two calls from people in favor of the new plowing method.
"I watched several people walk down the sidewalk (in front of his business) and try to climb over the frozen berm," he said. "We cleaned the sidewalk but they can't cross the road because of the berm. Many people left the sidewalk and walked up the street because they can't get off the sidewalk at the end to cross the street."
City council members and Buchanan are hoping residents will be patient as they work through the process of changing the plowing methods.
"This was a first stab at this and it was a heck of a good storm," McNelly said. "Every storm is different. There's some work that needs to be done and we need to get a handle of this and decide what we are going to do. For those who say we are just going to put together a committeee and do nothing, I say that is not the case. Anyone who wants to be on the committee can give me a call."
Buchanan said there are a number of reasons the city needs to try a new plowing method.
"Show me another city anywhere that deals with snow by moving and hauling it for all of town, other than downtown," Buchanan said. "Anywhere else you go in the country it gets plowed to the side just like this one. And that's for obvious reasons, it costs a lot of money to handle that snow three times."
Coucil members were supportive of the city maintenance crew and applauded their efforts at trying to save money and make the streets safer.
"Our public works employees, our public works director and our city manager did this with the intent to make it better and save money for the city," Moore said. "I think that's important for the community to understand. Sometimes things don't go like they should and change causes grief. I would like to say congratulations for the folks trying and I sure don't want to put a damper on trying new things in the future."