Towns weigh winter storm’s impact on budgets, roads

Last week’s winter storm ground Matthews, Mint Hill and much of the East Coast to a halt, blanketing streets with ice and snow, shutting down area businesses and schools and depleting much of the towns’ already limited resources for fighting inclement weather.

Treating town-owned roads in Matthews isn’t an easy task when challenging weather comes to town. The Matthews Public Works Department has five snow plows/salt trucks, which makes it difficult when town staff simultaneously needs to plow and salt roads. That’s what made last week’s snow and ice so challenging, as well as finding the manpower to work around the clock to try and keep the roads clear and safe, Ralph Messera, Matthews public works director, said.

Messera said his team of about eight public works employees worked around the clock, with some workers coming in to work at 7 a.m. Wednesday morning before the bulk of the storm hit and working until 8 p.m. Thursday night.

“My people were just burnt out,” Messera said. “We split into two teams, but they sort of were working over on each other’s times. We weren’t able to break up or go home.”

That’s why Matthews rented two local hotel rooms for public works employees to use to find some rest during the storm, since the winter weather made it difficult to go home. Before, Messera said workers would sleep on tables at the department’s facilities on Tank Town Road.

But this time town leaders decided to “do better” for the employees whose ultimate goals were to keep Matthews residents safe, Messera said.

“They did an excellent job… and really worked together as a team,” he said.

Now that the ice has melted and the snow has been diminished to several large piles of plowed snow throughout many Matthews parking lots, Messera said town employees will inspect roads for cracks or potholes that may have been caused by last week’s harsh conditions and treatments. Most of the problems found so far are in the hands of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which is charged with maintaining several main roads throughout town.

Because Matthews racked up overtime hours and used much of its stock of this season’s salt brine and sand, town manager Hazen Blodgett said there will be some strain on this year’s budget. But the situation could have been a lot worse. Blodgett said Messera had been concerned salt brine resources weren’t enough to make it through the storm, but the town had just enough to get through. Both Blodgett and Messera said they plan to seek more resources in the case another storm hits this season. Additionally, Charlotte has offered some resources, if needed.

“We paid overtime, but that’s the cost of doing business. Mostly, we just appreciate our employees are willing to go the extra mile and make sure everyone is safe,” Blodgett said. “You hear stories of Atlanta and stuff – I think when we do a good job, it does build a good word with our citizens. Our fire, police, EMS and public works all did a really great job.”

In Mint Hill, public works employees worked nearly 140 overtime hours from Wednesday morning to Friday evening scraping roads and putting down salt and sand to ensure the safety of residents. A few potholes will crop up following the storm, but the town doesn’t expect any major issues, town manager Brian Welch said. The town also shouldn’t see any significant monetary impact, with overtime pay already included in the budget. Most of the salt and sand used by the town was purchased nearly three years ago, and Welch said the supply is still strong if more storms come through this year.


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