Storm creates extra work and costs for governments

Telegraph staffJanuary 30, 2014 

This week’s winter storm affected local governments with extra cost and work, but Middle Georgia escaped the public-service disaster experienced in Atlanta.

Macon-Bibb government offices closed at 3 p.m. Tuesday and reopened at noon Thursday. That included canceling a commission work session; but emergency personnel and the Roads Division of Public Works were told to show up as scheduled. They remained on the job, or at least on call, throughout the closure.

Regular services including trash pickup restarted at noon Thursday. Trash collection was running a day behind, but crews were expected to work Friday to catch up.

Don Druitt, director of the Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management Agency, said some Macon-Bibb employees worked overtime, plus the government will face higher fuel costs and the expense of the salt scattered on local roads. But those costs will take some time to add up, he said. Within a few days the total will be calculated and sent to Mayor Robert Reichert and County Manager Dale Walker, Druitt said.

Firefighters, EMA employees and volunteers worked throughout the snow days, said Chris Floore, the government’s public affairs director. Public Works crews watched and salted roads, responding to reports of icy conditions, he said.

“Staff at Animal Welfare also worked on Wednesday to feed and care for the animals,” Floore said.

The bad road conditions meant a lot of extra hours for Macon-Bibb sheriff’s personnel, Sheriff David Davis said.

From Tuesday afternoon until Thursday, patrol deputies worked 100 hours of overtime, detention deputies worked 30 extra hours, and forensics officers worked 42 hours of overtime, he said.

“Mainly what they (forensics) were doing was carrying people to work,” Davis said. Jail and 911 center staff often needed help in the snow and ice, for which the forensics deputies’ four-wheel-drive trucks were handy, he said.

During the storm period, deputies worked 110 road accidents, Davis said. Most of those were low-speed slides into ditches or trees, but 16 involved minor injuries, he said.

“Typically, we’ll have a fraction of that many, maybe a third that many in a two-day period,” Davis said.

Deputies also handled security checks at homeless shelters and were on hand at the EMA bunker at all times, he said.

“This is the first major event we’ve had like this since consolidation,” Davis said. He’s proud of how all the officers -- both longtime sheriff’s deputies and former Macon police -- came together and worked well, he said.

Houston County governments reported much less of an impact.

Perry City Manager Lee Gilmour credits the closure of schools and businesses, and people listening to advice to stay home, with giving the city few long-lasting effects from the storms.

“Because of that, we had very little overtime,” Gilmour said Thursday afternoon, not long after city offices opened for the first time since they’d closed Monday evening.

With fewer cars on the road, Mother Nature was allowed to take more control in melting Perry’s ice. The city applied a bit of salt and sand, mostly around Perry Hospital, but for the most part, Public Works crews stayed home.

Warner Robins hasn’t calculated how much overtime was needed, but Chief Financial Officer Bill Harte expected little impact overall from the closures.

“We’ve got a crowd in here today trying to get bills paid. It’s just an inconvenience, more than anything, I think,” he said. That city reopened for businesses at noon Thursday.

Harte and Gilmour said city employees will still be paid for their days out of work. Gilmour said Perry has a policy of paying employees when they’re told they can’t come in to work. Macon-Bibb officials did not immediately answer a question of whether employees who missed work because of the weather would be paid for those days.

Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker predicted the county would face costs measured in thousands of dollars for the storm, which is far less than it could have been.

“It’s not going to be a budget buster,” he said. “I’m just thankful that it wasn’t any worse here than it was.”

Stalnaker said nonessential county employees were put on paid leave and may catch up with some backlogged work next week. Emergency workers who had to work regular shifts may be compensated in some way, such as with extra downtime, Stalnaker said.

Stalnaker credited good communication among a mix of organizations including city and county governments, the school system, emergency management organizations and Robins Air Force Base with managing things well. Many of those organizations closed Tuesday and the storm hit at night, leaving few people on the roads.

“If it had hit in the afternoon, it would have probably been a different situation,” he said.

Government employees at Robins will be paid for time lost due to the weather, base spokesman David Donato said. About 2,000 employees at Robins are contracted with private companies, and Donato said those bsuinesses may have varying policies about weather pay.

A spokeswoman for Boeing, which has about 50 employees at Robins who work on the C-17, said those employees can work from home, so lost pay wasn’t an issue.

Meanwhile, cases that were scheduled to go before Macon’s Municipal Court on Wednesday will be made up Feb. 18, but there weren’t any cases scheduled Thursday, Floore said.

The Bibb County Superior Court Clerk’s office was closed from 3 p.m. Tuesday until noon Thursday, Clerk Erica Woodford said, but she did some work from home. The full staff was back Thursday afternoon, she said.

There were several trials scheduled for this week, but traverse jurors were excused from appearing Tuesday through Thursday because of the danger in driving, Woodford said.

“Although the storm has created a backlog and hindered the courts from resolving pending trials, the jurors’ safety was of paramount concern for the Superior Court Clerk’s Office,” she said.

Writer Wayne Crenshaw contributed to this report. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251. To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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