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Let it snow: road-clearing agreement reached locally

ALL TOGETHER NOW — A new snowplow contract has been ratified, by a cooperation of Erie County and local officials. From left: Orchard Park Highway Superintendent Fred Piasecki, Evans Highway Superintendent Ed Michalski, Newstead Supervisor David Cummings, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, Aurora Supervisor Jolene Jeffe, Concord Supervisor Gary Eppolito and Concord Highway Superintendent Dennis Dains.

BUFFALO — Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz was joined by Commissioner of Public Works John Loffredo, Aurora Supervisor Jolene Jeffe, Concord Supervisor Gary Eppolito, Newstead Supervisor Dave Cummings, along with Dennis Dains, Ed Michalski and Fred Piasecki, highway superintendents from the towns of Concord, Evans and Orchard Park, respectively, to announce a new snowplowing agreement has been reached between Erie County and the association representing the 32 municipalities that contract with the county for snowplowing.

The new contract, which must be approved by the Erie County legislature and the town boards of each of the municipalities, calls for an annual increase of 3 percent for the next three years, which amounts to an initial increase of $135,000 on the expired contract.

“With colder weather coming in the next few months, it was imperative we reach a fair agreement that was fiscally conservative and also ensured the public’s safety. I am pleased these negotiations produced a result that is fiscally workable for all parties involved and protects the public safety, as well,” Poloncarz said.

“Both sides understood we would have to compromise a little, to reach a mutually agreeable position. I thank the members of the Highway Superintendents Association and town supervisors for their willingness to discuss this issue and help in reaching the solution we did.”

Negotiations for the new agreement began in March 2013, with three sessions involving members of the HSA and the Erie County Departments of Public Works and Budget. Erie County’s snowplowing expense grew from $2.1 million in 2000 to $4.5 million in the current fiscal year.

The towns had initially sought a contract that would have granted them raises of 5 percent annually for the next three years, which would have added more than $225,000 to the county budget in the first year.

Concord Supervisor Gary Eppolito and Orchard Park Superintendent Fred Piasecki added, “We would like to thank [Erie] County Executive Poloncarz and his entire staff. While negotiations were difficult, we feel we have a fair contract. Both sides gave a little. We would like to thank Town Highway Superintendents Dennis Dains and Ed Michalski and Aurora Supervisor Jolene Jeffe, and Newstead Supervisor Dave Cummings, who also served on the negotiating team. Negotiations were difficult, but in the interest of public safety, compromises had to be made.”

The Erie County Legislature Minority Caucus Leader John Mills said he is pleased with the contract.

“This contract provides towns with the necessary resources to plow county roads, keeping them clear of snow and ice. At the end of the day, ensuring motorists are safe when traveling on county roads is the number one priority and I believe that this contract achieves that,” Mills noted.

At the request of Minority Leader Mills, several town highway superintendents and supervisors spoke at the Sept. 17 Economic Development Committee meeting to share their concerns that the old contract had expired without a new one in place.

It was at this meeting that the administration agreed to return to the negotiating table. Legislator Edward Rath, the ranking Republican member of the committee, had encouraged the two sides to resume negotiations to finalize a contract before the first snowfall.

“Without the assistance of towns, the county would not be able to plow all of its roadways, that is why ratifying this contract was so important. Erie County would have been faced with a major public safety threat and I am thrilled that this crisis has been averted. Now the residents of Erie County can rest assured that our winter roads will be properly cleared and our towns can now prepare for the winter season,” said Rath.

Pending approval by the legislature, the new contract will take effect in budget years 2014-16.

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