It will be a transition year and snow plowing operations could lag on some lower class roads but the County of Prince Edward is moving towards becoming more self reliant in terms of its winter road maintenance.
Council approved a motion Tuesday at it’s biweekly meeting that will see half of its ten priority winter snow plow routes negotiated to QBT Excavating Services of Brighton and internalize the other five routes starting this winter.
Previously, the municipality had contracted winter maintenance on all ten of its priority routes on main highways and higher travelled county roads with those multi-year contracts ending in April.
In order to undertake the winter road maintenance of the other five routes, Council approved the purchase of two additional tandem trucks with winter implements from Surgenor Truck Group at a cost of $565,699 and ratified the increase in contract winter control driver complement.
The move comes after council balked last month at a dramatic increase in winter road maintenance costs after a tender came in far above what was expected.
With an offer of QBT on the table at at $200 per day on standby and $225 per hour plowing for four route being deemed acceptable, Council directed staff to attempt to re-engage and negotiate with Drew Harrison Haulage Inc.
According to a summary submitted by Commissioner of Engineering, Development & Works Robert McAuley, Drew Harrison Haulage Inc provided a confidential revised proposal, however the resultant annual cost to the County was still approximately 40 per cent higher for the proposed six routes than the QBT Excavating Services Ltd offer which was more in line with the previous contracted prices.
“Staff were not prepared to recommend acceptance of the revised proposal and no counter was made. It was apparent that a deal suitable to council could not be reached with Drew Harrison Haulage Inc. And based on staff’s expressed strong desire to bring the contracted winter control work in house instructions were provided by Council to internalize this work,” McAuley said in the report.
The move means the County will attempt to piece together a solution for the upcoming winter driving season and ramp up internal operations in the coming years.
In addition to the new purchases, part of the solution means the municipality will be repairing a pair of aging tandem trucks and putting them into service instead of declaring them surplus.
It also means the altering the past practice of holding three tandem plow trucks in reserve as replacements for truck breakdown and damage or excessive snow.
Staff recommends placing one of these standby plow trucks into regular service and reducing the breakdown reserve to two tandem plow trucks.
“In the past few years all of the reserve plow trucks have been pressed into service during the winter season and there is increased risk in reducing the number of plow trucks in reserve. Should a breakdown situation arise this winter and the reserve plow trucks are already in use, we would not be able to clear plow routes in a timely fashion. However the routes would be cleared eventually. Should this situation occur, a public service announcement would be issued. Staff believe the risk in reducing the number of reserve plow trucks by one for this season is warranted,” McAuley said.
The 2018 budget’s total combined contacted and internal cost for roads winter control was $2,748,518. The QBT Excavating Services Ltd. Five route contract is estimated to cost $704,375 per year for the balance of an eight year term.
The internalizing of the five plow routes is estimated to cost an additional $315,000 per year, for a new total annual roads winter maintenance budget of $3,067,893, or an increase of 12 per cent.
However, council appears to be happy to play the long game at this point as the rejected tender for the six routes was $1.7 million alone and the entire budget was a four per cent increase as presented last month.
During discussion, councillor Gord Fox inquired to McAuley if the roads department had the capacity and ability to take on the five routes.
“Our expectations are a little bit higher and this is going to be a significant workload increase,” Fox said. “I would feel a little more comfortable if they are aware of this and they are up to doing the task.”
McAuley told Fox that himself, CAO James Hepburn and others met with roads staff and management staff last week and there was a sense emerging from the meeting that the department was ready to accept the challenge and welcomed the vote of confidence council was extending them.
“We reinforced with them what council was expecting and that this measure is their grass roots initiative that we are championing and we expect to them to help get us over this transition year,” McAuley said.
Councillor Maynard wondered about the eventualities of breakdowns and staff shortages.
“Are we nimble enough to move around and ensure it’s the higher class roads that get the attention and it would be the lower class roads that might not get the attention?” Maynard wondered.
McAuley said standards allow for a significant time lapse on the lower class roads and that the County will do its best to address all roads in the allowable timeline.
“That is going to be the challenge this upcoming year but staff understands Council is willing to accept some slippage in levels of service as we try to transition and internalize our routes,” the Commissioner said, adding there will be communications with home owners on those lower class roads should an issue arise during a storm event.
“So there shouldn’t be a question as to why I haven’t seen a plow, it will have been explained that there was a breakdown and plows were reassigned,” McAuley added. “There will be patience required on both sides.”
Councillor Jamie Forrester wondered about possibly accelerating the ramp up process to internalizing the entire winter maintenance operations in a move that could potentially realize savings sooner.
McAuley warned this was a big jump for the municipality and marked a significant increase in the county’s business of maintaining its own priority routes which was why staff was recommending the eight year pact with QBT Excavating.
According to the Commissioner, the municipality can expect to spend $3 million on tandem trucks and equipment and hire more permanent and seasonal staff in the coming years in order to take on all routes.
“This is a 30 per cent jump in our business and we don’t feel as a staff that council is in a position to absorb that kind of increase over four years. We feel we are going to need the latitude over the full eight years in order to make that size of an investment and ramp up,” McAuley said. “If Council wants to look at that, we can but I don’t think we have the financial wherewithal to do it given what we are facing from a roads building perspective and a water/wastewater perspective and other priorities council have on their plate.”