Mittwoch, Dezember 03, 2008

Are They Insane???

This surprised me.

I lived in Chicago for six years when I was a kid, and until recently had a kid sister living there; my folks retired on the other side of the lake, and Chicago's a great town.

It'd be even better if it wasn't for the legendary corruption and malfeasance of its politicians, though.

One constant throughout the last 50 years in Chicago, though, is something that no Chicago politician dare ignore except at his mortal peril: snow removal. Chicago lies directly in a massive weather pattern, where frigid polar air comes down from the North, crossing Lake Superior and picking up moisture from the extensive forests of Canada. This cold air hits the relatively warm barrier of Chicago and its environs, as well as Lake Michigan, and this forces the clouds up: they dump weight to climb, and the result is snow. An average of 38" a winter, with a minimum of 9.8" and a maximum of 89.7". That's a lot of snow.

Lots of snow. I remember blizzards from when I was a kid, where it was impossible to see anything beyond 30 feet and less, and where snowdrifts completely buried our VW bus as it was parked next to the house. Drifts extended up to the second floor (first floor for the European readers) of our house, and there was one Christmas where we literally didn't go outdoors for 4 days because of the heavy snowstorms.

Hence: snow removal is something that the good citizens of Chicago except in return for their taxes. It's the litmus test of Chicago politicians: fail this, and your career is over. Manage it well, and you're in for life, basically (not "in" as in jail, but rather you'll be re-elected for as long as you keep your part of the deal).

But this quote was intriguing:

City Department of Streets & Sanitation Commissioner Michael Picardi, according to the release from Streets & San, pointed out that Monday's moderate snow, which brought 2 1/2 inches to the North Side and 1 1/2 inches to the South Side, still cost $490,000 to clear because of high costs for equipment ($143,000), salt ($295,000) and workers ($51,000).

"Our full route system covers 9,456 lane miles and during a full snow program is patrolled by 274 snow-fighting trucks which use gasoline, spread salt and are operated by salaried drivers, so costs will naturally mount whenever we go out," Picardi said. "Our challenge is to find as many ways to provide this important service while still working to reduce costs."

Now, correct me if I am wrong: salaried workers are a fixed cost, something that belongs to overhead: the equipment is also a fixed cost. Why then does Picardi say that costs will "naturally" mount whenever they go out? The only "real" cost is the $295k for salt.

The real reason behind this is prepping the public for yet another tax hike. That's the one place where the public is really willing to pay, but it then begs the question of exactly how the city is calculating the costs.

So, to answer the question "Are They Insane?": no, they're not. If anything, they're praying for more and more snow, since that will give them the justification to ... raise taxes.

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