WILKES-BARRE -- Wilkes-Barre and Scranton share their names on an airport, a hockey team, and a baseball team. but when it came to paying for snow removal during March's blizzard, the smaller of these two cities spent about twice as much as the larger one.
On Brogan Avenue in the Miners Mills neighborhood of Wilkes-Barre, the street is partially covered with autumn leaves. Six months ago, it was covered with so much snow many were stuck in their homes for four days.
"You had a pickup truck come through and give it a one-time plow, but the streets weren't cleared for days," recalled resident Al Hewitt.
Records show Wilkes-Barre spent more than $1 million removing snow during the Blizzard of 2017.
"I think somebody got ripped off. We did," Hewitt said.
"It was a tough storm to keep up with, but we responded as we thought we probably should," said Wilkes-Barre city administrator Ted Wampole.
Wampole says Wilkes-Barre went all out to keep its streets clear.
But our investigation finds that all-out effort came at a price.
SNOW REMOVAL COST ESTIMATES
- Wilkes-Barre -- $1,004,000
- Scranton -- $580,000
- Hazleton -- $390,000
The final total for snow removal costs from the three largest cities affected by the storm indicates Wilkes-Barre spending almost as much as Scranton and Hazleton combined. The Scranton and Hazleton numbers are estimates from city officials.
"I can't answer to what the other municipalities spent," Wampole said. "I can tell you that the city responded with all the resources that we could possibly gather to fight this kind of a storm."
"I want to know where that money went," said Miners Mills resident Mike Murphy.
Records show it went to private contractors.
SNOW REMOVAL CONTRACTOR COSTS
- Wilkes-Barre -- $791,000
- Scranton -- $322,000
- Hazleton -- $93,000
Wilkes-Barre spent more than twice as much as Scranton for outside help.
Three companies received a total of $601,000.
Our investigation found all cities paid the same per-hour rate, but Wilkes-Barre had more contractors working more hours to clear streets during the Blizzard of 2017.
Nancy Evans is a music teacher who also works as an organist at churches in both Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. She says only Wilkes-Barre kept its main roads clear right after the storm.
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"I think they did an excellent job," Evans said. "I work at a church in Scranton that I play for, and they did not. I had a really hard time getting to that church for two Sundays in a row."
But in the Miners Mills section of Wilkes-Barre, Murphy said the city did not get its money's worth. Murphy talks about returning from Philadelphia hours before the storm.
"The snow wasn't removed from the main streets, let alone the side streets, until two or three days after I got back."
Diana Middaugh thinks her city could have spent less.
"No, they had to pull everybody in, then the money starts."
"Wampole says there is another number people in Wilkes-Barre should focus on -- zero. That's the number of deaths related to the storm, Wampole says, because roads were kept open for ambulances for people to get to the hospital.
"I think if we did it all over again, we would probably respond the same way. Of course, it's in the back of your mind. I think next time, what happens, do we do anything different? Because you can't run up a million dollar tab again."
Wilkes-Barre will pay this million dollar tab with its windfall of income and real estate sale taxes.
But if there's a next time, could the city do the job for less?
"We can second-guess it all day long, fine. Have at it," Wampole said. "You've got to weigh safety and security against what it's going to do to our budget, and we felt that safety and security are the most important things and we would make that same decision again."
A number of Wilkes-Barre leaders say the focus should be on the federal government's formula that left all area communities receiving no reimbursement for snow removal.
Governments in eight counties expected a 75 percent reimbursement which would have made snow removal in Wilkes-Barre and many other area communities much more affordable.