LINCOLNWOOD, IL — This fall, amid surging coronavirus infections and uncertainty about possible staffing shortages during winter storms, a group of seven North Shore municipalities drew up an intergovernmental agreement to allow towns to share personnel during snowstorms.
Departing Lincolnwood Public Works Director Andrew Letson spearheaded the effort to ensure that snow removal operations would not be disrupted if some number of village employees could not make it to work due to circumstances related to COVID-19.
"The providing agency would be responsible to send its own employees (i.e. no contractors) and would only be asked to remove snow from public property," Letson said this week in a memo to the board. "This agreement is intended to be a last resort and would be used in the event that a community has exhausted its other means of providing snow removal services," he said.
Elected officials in Evanston, Glencoe, Kenilworth, Lincolnwood, Skokie and Wilmette all signed on to the agreement during their respective December board meetings. Trustees in Northbrook and Northfield had yet to formally adopt it as of Friday.
The agreement automatically expires in May unless the parties to it decide to extend it.
Dave Stoneback, public works director in Evanston, said quarantine orders, caring for sick family or dealing with the struggles of child care and remote schooling has led to last-minute staffing shortages. In a memo, he said there was concern over what a staffing shortage of any kind would mean during snow or ice.
"Requests were made to other City departments for snow removal volunteers in the event [public works] staff shortages were encountered. Furthermore, staff reached out to neighboring municipalities to offer and seek support as well as inquire about any contingency plans that could be offered," Stoneback said. "As it turned out, all shared the same concerns and willingness to help."
The villages met together remotely to discuss the plan in November, and attorneys from the municipal law firm Elrod Friedman, which represents several of the north Cook County suburbs involved in the deal, drew up an.
Hart Passman, a partner at the firm, said it is a purely voluntary arrangement. The town requesting help with snow removal is responsible for reimbursing whoever provided it.
"It's non-binding, so if a community doesn't think it can for whatever reason or doesn't feel like it, they don't have to respond," Passman said. He expected public works directors to be able to anticipate their needs ahead of severe weather events.
The agreement only kicks in during a snowfall of at least two inches. Each town is responsible for determining whether they have one or more staffer unable to work for at least eight hours due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"If they're looking at it and saying, 'There's a snow storm coming in two days and my team is out because they're quarantined, or sick,' they can take the corrective step," he said. "'If we have this snow, who can help me?' And then they sort it all out."