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Condition of DPW's Vehicle Fleet Is 'Startling'

Somerville Board of Aldermen approves $750,000 bond to purchase new DPW vehicles.

The ' vehicle fleet is in a state of shocking disrepair, if a recent presentation to the Somerville Board of Alderman is any indication.

One truck is "so badly rotted that we had to use a street sign as a floor board," said Mike Brown, from the DPW, telling the aldermen about the poor condition of many of the department's vehicles.

Another truck's fuel tank is being held in place with a ratchet strap, the kind of polyester strap normally used to tie things down in the back of a pickup truck.

At least two trucks were recently lost to fire, and on one vehicle—a 36,000-pound dump drunk—"the rear end fell out of the truck," said Brown. The result was that heaps of snow-melting salt spilled onto Powderhouse Boulevard last winter, causing the road to close as DPW workers scrambled to clean up the mess by hand.

Over the past three years, the DPW has lost 12 vehicles due to problems related to age, according to Stanley Koty, commissioner of the DPW. Rust and rot are prevalent features on many of the department's trucks, and the department still uses one truck from the year 1969.

Poorly equipped for fighting snow

"We are now fighting snow storms with only 43 pieces of equipment," said Brown, who anticipates losing at least six more vehicles by the end of the fiscal year and expects the attrition rate to continue.

"This will bring our snow fighting fleet to its lowest level ever," he said, predicting it could be down to 30 vehicles by fiscal year 2013.

Somerville needs at least 60 trucks in good condition to handle snow in the city, he said.

"We've been using glue and gum for the last four years" to keep the vehicles operating, said Koty.

$750,000 bond for new vehicles

It was for these reasons the Somerville Board of Aldermen approved a $750,000 bond Thursday to finance the purchase of new vehicles for the DPW. The board will soon be called upon to provide another $46,000 for the same purpose, and the DPW will need further funding over the next three to four years.

Many members of the Board of Aldermen expressed their displeasure at the last-minute timing of the request for such a large chunk of money.

"This is one of those times where you have the [meeting] agenda, and there's an enormous item there," said Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz. "This is not $750,000 that we have just lying around in the city."

"What we're doing tonight is a little bass-ackwards," said Alderman At-Large John Connolly, referring to a presentation delivered to the aldermen that he felt should have been delivered, first, to the finance committee.

"The timing here is awful," he said. "We're probably four to six weeks, minimum, from seeing this apparatus, winter is upon us, and we're going to be caught behind."

Aldermen see no choice

Connolly talked of the "absolute need we have for this equipment, but we're going to be twiddling our thumbs and using chewing gum and paper clips and rubber bands to keep the equipment together over the next four to six weeks."

Gewirtz, who received a tour of the DPW's vehicle facility, said of vehicle conditions, "It's really startling; it is really surprising. It's a tough situation."

"Some of these vehicles absolutely must be replaced, and they must be replaced in advance of the snow," she said.

According to Brown, snow-fighting vehicles rot at an alarming rate because they carry snow-melting rock salts that wreak havoc to the undercarriages of vehicles. The average lifespan of snow fighting vehicles in the Northeast is five to 10 years, he said, and the average age of Somerville's DPW vehicles is 13 years.

Connolly and Alderman At-Large Dennis Sullivan spoke about the need for a comprehensive vehicle preventative maintenance plan. 

"We have a very very good preventative maintenance plan," said Brown.

Jonah Petri October 31, 2011 at 08:54 PM
This seems very late to be asking for new equipment! Let's hope it can be acquired quickly, before another snowpocalypse comes.
Amanda Kersey November 01, 2011 at 11:57 AM
Agreed. I wouldn't want to be stuck in my apartment for days after the next snowstorm because there weren't enough trucks in good condition to clear it away.

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