Hempstead Town officials have cut spending on their snow removal budget, added part-time workers and changed the road salt mix in an effort to reduce overtime pay and other expenses.
Full-time town workers are being supplemented — and their overtime or weekend hours reduced — by 40 new part-time plow drivers who were deployed for the first time during a heavy weekend snowfall early this month.
The town this year budgeted about $2.5 million for snow removal, including materials and regular worker hours, down about $500,000 from last year’s budget.
The part-time staffers were hired to cut down on overtime, but also to relieve full-time workers who reach their maximum allowable time before mandated rest. Town officials said part-time workers can take over plows to keep them continuously operating.
“We’re focusing heavily on cost savings while maintaining the level of snow removal service,” Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony Santino said. “We can keep plows moving and meet our residents’ standards. It limits OT and we complete our plowing operations more quickly.”
Some of the town’s full-time union workers have voiced frustration about the use of part-time plow operators and attempted a sickout during the last storm, town officials said, adding that the 26 workers in the highway department who called in sick Jan. 7 were fewer than the 29 workers who called in sick during a major storm last year.
Union officials did not return calls for comment and said no one was authorized to speak on the town policy of using part-time workers.
The part-time plow operators “are just coming on during a snow emergency and we are within our right to use them during those terms,” Santino said. “This is intended to save money for taxpayers and produces significant savings.”
The 40 part-time workers were called to work for 10 hours from 2 p.m. to midnight during the early January snowfall. The average full-time employees on snow duty are paid $59 per hour, while part-time workers are paid $30 per hour.
The part-time hours totaled $12,000 in pay, saving the town nearly that amount compared to using full-time workers during those hours, town officials said.
Town officials have also signed a contract for a maximum spending of $430,000 for commuter lot snow removal by Westbury-based Roadwork Ahead Inc., but contract workers are only paid for work completed. The town also paid $7,500 to prepare the contract, which was unanimously approved by board members. Santino said the contract workers have only been used twice in the past 15 years for major storms.
Town officials are also changing their salting system this year to use a brine mixture instead of straight road salt. The brine system is cheaper to use than salt and allows workers to spread it on roadways as much as 48 hours in advance. Salt has to be applied just hours before it’s going to snow.
Santino estimated that the town saves about $20,000 in overtime compared to using municipal workers to distribute salt after working hours.
“As supervisor, I’ve really come to dislike snow. It costs a lot of money,” Santino said. “We’re doing what we need to do for solid service and finding new, innovative ways for snow removal.”