Borough, PRIDE to hash out snow removal plan

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Despite the fact there has been little to no snowfall in Punxsutawney so far this winter, representatives of some of the downtown merchants spoke to the Punxsutawney Borough Council’s Public Safety Committee at Tuesday’s meeting regarding the possibility of snow removal.

Shirley Sharp and Joe Ferraro of PRIDE made good on a promise to bring a plan to council regarding the removal of snow from the parking meter zones in the borough.

Sharp said PRIDE had been researching how two other boroughs — Brookville and Clarion — handle snow removal from their downtown business district.

She said both of those municipalities have a snow emergency program, which allows the mayors of those communities to declare a snow emergency, which calls for the streets to be closed or partially closed in order to facilitate snow removal.

Sharp said there is part of Punxsutawney’s borough code that would allow the borough to do the same thing.

“The mayor has the authority to declare an emergency,” she said. “Last year, when the snow and ice were piled high and onto the parking areas along the street, that could’ve been declared a snow emergency, which would’ve allowed for timely snow removal in that area.”

She said the problem that exists is in the metered parking areas controlled by the borough.

“The borough controls them and has the responsibility for public parking lots,” Sharp said, noting that land and building owners do not control the spaces.

“It needs to be a partnership with the borough in order to make it possible for those areas to be cleared,” she said. “What I’m proposing is that the borough does have the authority to declare a snow emergency, and to facilitate the cleaning of the streets.

“We’re not asking the borough to clear the sidewalks: We’re asking to make it possible for the sidewalks and parking meter areas to be cleared,” Sharp said.

Mayor James Wehrle said he has the authority to declare a snow emergency.

“Last year, it was agreed with by council that Ben White, the borough manager, and I would decide as to when an emergency should be declared,” he said. “The problem is, what constitutes an emergency?”

Sharp said PRIDE’s proposal suggests forming a committee to decide when a snow emergency declaration should go into effect.

Committee member Roger Steele said Public Works dump trucks aren’t available to haul away snow because of the use of the salt and anti-skid spreaders that are mounted in the beds of the truck.

Ferraro, another business owner, suggested using private contracted laborers — not Public Works employees — to remove snow. Steele said that’s not permissible because of the contract the borough has with AFSCME, which represents Public Works employees.

White also said the borough is precluded from having a second shift also by contract, such as in Brookville.

“If we had a second shift, there would be nothing for those working on that shift to do if it wasn’t snowing,” he said. There is a call-out period when workers are called to plow snow and are paid overtime to do that.

Steele said when he’s been involved with volunteer snow removal, there were some property owners who wouldn’t cooperate and allow them to remove the snow. He also said there would need to be a guarantee that there would be people to show up to help clear the snow.

Ferraro said PRIDE would be responsible for getting people to help with the snow removal.

Chamber Executive Director Marlene Lellock said the borough couldn’t do anything more that declare the emergency. Sharp said as long as an emergency would be declared, PRIDE would find the dump trucks to haul away snow.

Wehrle, White and PRIDE representatives agreed to meet at 2 p.m. Friday to work on a plan for snow removal in the metered zone areas of the borough.