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Village Racks Up Big Overtime Bill Thanks to Blizzard of 2011

Preliminary estimates put expense at more than $275,000; federal assistance may cover some of bill.

Of all the statistics cited about the blizzard of 2011, this one really puts it into perspective:

The amount of snow cleared from downtown Lockport Street between Route 59 and the DuPage River and the three streets that intersect with it -- Illinois, Des Plaines and Fox River -- filled 342 semi-trailer trucks, Police Cmdr. John Konopek told the Board Monday night.

Just as impressive are the number of overtime hours logged by Plainfield public works, emergency management agency and police employees who worked around the clock to rescue 40 to 50 stranded motorists, move 80 stranded cars, plow 427 miles of roads and house 29 people in an emergency shelter set up at the Plainfield Police Station.

The price tag as of Monday was $277,000, which pretty much wiped out what the village had budgeted for snow removal in the 2010-11 budget. And the deficit could grow given that winter is far from over and the current fiscal year doesn’t end until April 30, Village Administrator Brian Murphy said.

“We pretty much red-lined it,” he said. “We were doing pretty well and were actually under budget before the storm.”

If there is any good news in this scenario, it’s that the village will likely be reimbursed for a good portion of the expense by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Murphy said. The village declared a “state of emergency” last week, as did Gov. Pat Quinn.  

Getting federal aid is a huge “bookkeeping” project, in which the village must document every expense, but well worth the effort if it means some of the expense will be underwritten, Murphy said. In a Michigan town where he previously worked, he said, the municipality was compensated for 87 percent of the money it spent on one storm.

Village Board members lauded the police and public works departments for the work they did in getting at least one lane of traffic open on every street in the village within 24 hours, not including cul-de-sacs.

“That (storm) was really something,” Mayor Michael Collins said. “I haven’t been through something like that for a number of years. … I can’t say enough about the professional way everyone handled themselves.”

Trustee Bill Lamb agreed, and credited residents with helping by staying off the roads while the cleanup was under way: “For an event of this size, the response was wholly phenomenal.”

Beyond the manpower expense, several government vehicles sustained some sort of damage in the storm, Konopek said. A police car was involved in a minor accident, an ambulance ran into a snow bank and four public works vehicles were damaged by snow plows and in other ways, he said.

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