Leesburg Public Information Officer Betsy Arnett says the town’s new snow hotline has been successful in its first season of use, but some tweaks will be needed.
The snow hotline debuted in December and has been tested by two minor and one major snowstorm thus far. The hotline was meant to be a central tool to be used for residents to ask questions and share concerns to town staff during declared snow emergencies. All phone calls begin with a recorded update of general snow removal efforts at the time, but then residents are transferred to a staff member responsible for manning the line.
The biggest test came on the weekend beginning Jan. 22, when Winter Storm Jonas dumped more than three feet of snow in parts of the town. Arnett said between Saturday Jan. 23 and Wednesday Jan. 27 the hotline received 2,270 calls. Almost half of those calls were received on Monday, Jan. 25, when the storm had ended and snow removal efforts were in full swing.
That day also seemed to be the tipping point in frustration for residents and town staff alike. That night Town Council members hosted the first of two emergency conference calls on snow removal efforts, with some residents joining in criticizing the town for its focus on treating primary roads when many neighborhood streets were still not passable.
Arnett said town staff plans to make a presentation to the council about the town’s snow removal strategy going forward. Although researching industry standard practices has reinforced the town’s practice of treating primary roads first, Arnett said staff is planning to ask the council to support more funding to supplement snow removal for future storms.
As for future tweaks for the hotline, Arnett said one issue that has been identified early on is the need to have all staff members answering phones in the same location for better coordination. Arnett also noted that some residents were sending in the same concerns multiple times, either through repeat calls to the snow hotline, on the town’s Facebook page, or via an online form on the town website. She said that some residents may have felt that their concerns weren’t being heard since the online form submission did not generate a response from town staff, but assures that all concerns were logged and reported to street crews.