October 24, 2021

County needs four more to plow, but is that enough?

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Leif Birdsall drives a Cortland County highway department truck out of the garage Thursday after its has been converted for winter. The stainless steel bed has an insert that holds tons of salt, and an auger to spread it evenly. Each operator can expect to spend up to 3 1/2 hours on the road during a storm to cover a single route. Being down staff means they may spend more time on the road and residents will wait longer to get driving.

With the ability to hire four of eight vacant positions, Cortland County Highway Superintendent Charlie Sudbrink will have just enough people to plow roads this winter.

“As long as I can fill those four positions, I can make things work,” Sudbrink said Wednesday.

Sudbrink said there are 13 plow routes in the county, clearing snow from around 300 miles of road.

Sudbrink said he has eight positions open but was only given approval by the county to fill four, as the county faces a winter with a 20% loss of state aid, and reduced sales tax revenue because of a recession.

“Ever since COVID hit, permission to fill (positions) stopped,” Sudbrink said. “I ultimately didn’t want to cut my work force down. It’s what the county needs to do at this time.”

However, Sudbrink said he does have some concerns should someone get sick or even get coronavirus that others might not show for work, cutting the number of people available to do the routes and increasing the time it takes to get all the roads plowed.

Typically, said department worker Leif Birdsall, driving a route can take about 3 1/2 hours, although that can vary depending on weather conditions, traffic and lighting. And should the department be down people, that could extend the time they’re on the road and the time residents and businesses must wait for clear roads.

Gutchess Lumber relies on clear streets to move materials to and from its facility on McLean Road in Cortlandville.

“Road conditions certainly play a part in our daily operations, while we do have a small fleet of our own trucks, most of the raw materials and outgoing finished lumber that we ship, enters and leaves our facility on trucks that travel the local highways and roads,” said Jeff Breed, the spokesman for Gutchess. “Our first priority is always safety for our employees and our vendors/contractors, so having roads that are well plowed in the winter and well maintained is a very important aspect of our operations.”

Trish Hansen, division manager for TLC Emergency Medical Services, said she has no doubt that Sudbrink or any other highway superintendents in the county will be able to get the roads plowed.

“Everybody needs clear roads, not just ambulances or first responders,” Hansen said.

But even if they came into a difficult situation, Hansen said they would call the appropriate municipal or state department to help them. So far, they’ve not needed to do that with the county highway department.

“We have wonderful highway departments,” Hansen said.