LEWISTON — A $16,000 blower attachment may help public works crews clear snow from city sidewalks more quickly.

Public Works Director David Jones told city councilors Tuesday that the city has two sidewalk plows it relies on to clear more than 50 miles of sidewalks. Two more are broken and another is unreliable.

“What we’ve found during this cold weather, the blower attachments to those sidewalk plows break down more often,” Jones said. “When those go down, basically the machine is down until the mechanics can get that piece fixed.”

Jones said a spare attachment would let the city keep the plows in service more often.

“When one goes down, the machine comes down to the shop, they unhook one, put a working one back on and it’s back clearing sidewalks,” Jones said. “It’s a luxury we have not had up to this point.”

Councilors agreed, voting unanimously to let the public works staff spend up to $16,000 in fund balances to purchase the blower.

But councilors said residents could benefit from knowing that information more quickly and suggested the city do a better job communicating their snowplowing progress via social media and the city’s website, www.lewistonmaine.gov.

“It’s news to me that we have had half of our sidewalk maintenance fleet down, and I think it’s good information to get out to the public,” Councilor Nathan Libby said. “I also think it’s good for the council to hear sooner, rather than after several storms.”

According to National Weather Service reports, it has been a snowy winter with five storms that dumped more than a trace amount of snow in December and 12 so far in January. December was the fifth snowiest in the last 19 years with at least three multiple-day snowstorms.

Councilors said they’ve fielded numerous calls from residents complaining that their streets or sidewalks have not been plowed quick enough.

Libby and other councilors said they understood much of it was a budgetary issue. Councilors have cut the department’s budget over the past few years.

“I have no problem defending it during a storm, saying, you know, we are doing the best we can,” Councilor Donald D’Auteuil said. “But lately the complaints I have been getting are that they are not getting a response.”

City Administrator Ed Barrett said the city will do a better job keeping residents informed. Computer and administration staff are working with dispatch and police staff to keep the city’s Web and social media presence updated.

“We do a pretty good job on it Monday through Friday, 8 a.m to 4:30 p.m.,” Barrett said. “But we need to do a better job of it after hours and on weekends.”

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