Support Renewal of Four Seasons snow plowing contract for next year.
Posted to the Storm Mountain email group Thu 6/11/2020 4:54 PM
The expanded PID #55 Annual Meeting notice and agenda has been distributed. The meeting notice and attachments can be found at https://www.stormmountain.org/pid. In a very disappointing move, the board choose not to disclose their strong sentiment to NOT RENEW the snow plowing contract with Four Seasons for next year.
I often lament the damage done to our community and the world when people make decisions that are more based on emotion than well-informed fact, logic, and the community’s best long-term interest in mind. We are in danger of that happening again with something that impacts us all – snow plowing.
I regret having to send this out, as it attributes some issues to the personal characteristics of some board members. I suspect this will be upsetting. To me, the community welfare takes priority over individual feelings. To expand on what I have said before, the only true freedom of choice is a fully, factually informed choice, unclouded by emotional concerns or external manipulative forces. To the best of my knowledge, what I write here is a fair-and-balanced presentation of facts, together with opinion that is my assessment.
Let nothing I say here diminish the gratitude I feel to each PID Board member for taking on this role of public service to our community.
PID Board Votes to Deny Four Seasons a Contract Renewal
Because my wife, Deb Green, is on the PID board, I have become privy to information that is not yet public knowledge – that the PID board has voted (Twice!) in work sessions to not renew the snowplowing contract with Four Seasons Road Work, and is considering a proposal from a Loveland firm, a firm that mostly plows sidewalks, driveways and parking lots. The single rural dirt road reference the contractor provided was decidedly negative, citing significant damage to the stretch plowed.
At Saturday’s Annual Meeting, the board plans to take a final public vote to deny Four Seasons a contract renewal. There seems to be a will to award the contract to the vendor mentioned above. That proposal was solicited from the contractor by board member John Lodico.
The issues the board has with Four Seasons Road Work as I understand are:
- The overall cost of snow plowing this past season, $80,101.50, more than twice the cost of the highest recent season. You will find a cost analysis below, showing that this was reasonable, given the excessive snowfall we experienced.
- A poor, overly emotional working relationship between the board contacts and Four Seasons. I believe the board bears substantial responsibility for this. See my comments below.
- A perception by the board that upper filing snow plowing results failed to meet the board’s expectations. I look to upper filing residents to comment on this.
My Personal Assessment:
I believe that the board is not sufficiently appreciating the value of an on-mountain contractor; that the board is allowing their emotional reactions to the poor working relationship that has developed to influence their judgement to the detriment of the community’s long term benefit; that the board is discounting last winter’s exceptional snowfall amounts when looking at overall costs.
Most of all, I believe that the board has failed to appreciate the courage and effort of the people of Four Seasons in taking on this task, this responsibility on behalf of our community, and from the beginning failed to grant them the space, the consideration and the understanding to work through the steep learning curve that such an undertaking made inevitable.
This Board, this community, owes Four Seasons a contract renewal. Failure to do so will in all likelihood eliminate the possibility of an on-mountain contractor for the foreseeable future. We as a community have invested in Four Seasons, and failure to renew will throw away that investment and the on-mountain experience it bought.
The need for a respectful working relationship:
The Board’s primary Larimer County contact has counseled board members to provide clear guidance allowing Four Seasons to understand the conditions that should initiate plowing, and the parameters of the end result desired, allowing Four Seasons to use their best judgment to achieve the desired results. When exceptional conditions impact the ability to safely achieve the desired result, the Board needs to listen, understand, and work with the contractor, ultimately allowing the contractor the final say in how to proceed. It seems this was not always done well, or with calm, professional communications. This is not new on Storm Mountain. Storm Mountain has a reputation for being hard to work with – as demonstrated by the numerous times an existing contractor failed to seek a contract renewal. It is unfortunate that History has repeated itself with Four Seasons.
The working relationship between Four Seasons and the PID board has not been good, and anger has developed on both sides. While words on both sides have contributed to this, I believe that communications of PID board members to Four Seasons are at the heart of the issue. During a one month period, there were over 300 text messages sent from the board contact to Four Seasons in a disrespectful attempt to micromanage their efforts. On other occasions, Four Seasons was ordered to do things a certain way, without a full understanding of the conditions that made complying less than wise or safe. I can understand if Four Seasons at times would respond defensively, mirroring the upset they were receiving.
Plow vs Grader
Use of the grader to plow snow in the upper filings is a case in point. The board at times demanded that Four Seasons use the grader, when in Four Season’s best judgement, the plow truck was more appropriate. Actually, when the plow truck is up to the task, it is the equipment of choice. The grader operates at about 3 miles per hour, and costs $45 / hour more that the plow truck. The Plow truck can typically operate as much as three times as fast as the grader and is more maneuverable. The Plow truck can generally make 2-3 passes down a road in the time it takes the grader to make one. I purchased Bill McKenna’s plow truck around 2008, and know this from my experience plowing Filing 2 roads.
The Expected Learning Curve
As with every new contractor, there is a learning curve, and adjustments to be made along the way. That this was the case with Four Seasons was to be expected. My sense is that the work done in the lower filings was exemplary. The access road was cleared in a timelier manner than ever before, a level that could not be expected of any off-mountain contractor. The other lower filing roads were also addressed in a timely and competent manner.
The upper filing roads have always been more challenging, receiving actionable snowfalls more often than the lower filings, and consistently greater snow depths than seen in the lower filings. It should be no surprise that the upper filing learning curve is much steeper, and that PID Board members were less satisfied with the plowing of upper filing roads. Four Seasons made continuous improvement over the season in the upper filings.
Cost Analysis – 2019-20 Season
One concern of some PID board members is the cost paid to Four Seasons. Deb summarized days worked and costs, working from invoice reports. See the attached PDF. From January, 2016 through Spring of 2019, we had snow plow service on a total of 53 days, at an average cost of $1987 per day.
Attachment: Snow Plowing Cost Analysis
The 2019-20 season required service on a total of 56 days – about four times the service level of the prior three years. The cost paid to Four Seasons this past year was $80,101.50 to provide service on 56 days. I have analyzed this multiple ways, shown on the PDF and described below, in an attempt to make fair comparisons. A season of exceptionally large snowfall is the primary reason for the large expenditure for snow removal.
- The overall average cost/day for all 56 days was $1,430, $556 per day less than the per-day cost during the prior three and a half years.
- The exceptional snow event last Thanksgiving that left three or more feet of snow on the ground, in many areas requiring a back hoe to break ground before a plow could work, cost $29,330 and required service on 10 days, or $2,933 per service day.
- 17 of the service days were for minor work only – plowing / sanding of the access road, or clearing drifts only – averaging less than $250 per event. A benefit clearly appreciated by early morning travelers, and those meeting school buses. Including these days skews the average lower, so below I calculated the average cost per day of more normal snow events, excluding these days of minor work and the exceptional November event.
- Excluding minor-work-only service days and the November storm, there were still 29 days of snowfall significant enough to require plowing in the filings – twice that of a more average season. The cost for these days was $46,800, at an average cost per day of $1,614, still $370 / day less than the average per day for the prior seasons. That we aren’t paying an off-mountain contractor the travel time to reach our community contributes to this benefit.
It should be noted that in many prior years it was the practice to wait until snowfall ended before beginning plowing, and that the snow depth required before calling out the contractor was greater for the upper filings than for the lower filings. Returning to this practice would reduce overall costs. I’m just noting, not recommending, this.
Four Seasons, as an in-community contractor, provides us with a level service greater than any off-mountain contractor can provide, including, for example, early-morning access road clearing and the ability to run out and clear drifts when they occur.
I would ask PID board members to recognize the significant added value that an on-mountain contractor brings to our community. It took courage for Four Seasons to take this on, and a failure to renew the contract will kill the possibility of an on-mountain contractor for the foreseeable future.
The Board’s first vote to look for a new contractor was taken prior to the detailed financial analysis that Deb performed and prior to the less-than-glowing reference checks for the alternate contractor was completed. However, the second vote was taken with this information in hand – and it made no difference to those voting against Four Seasons.
I urge the board to reconsider and renew the contract with Four Seasons. I urge community members to voice their perspectives to the board and/or to this email group.
Thanks for listening, and for wading through this long presentation.