The Willow Ridge Board would like to share the complexity that goes into our snow removal contract and the current state of snow removal in the community.
Up until this last year, Green Lawn provided snow removal as part of the community landscaping contract. We are one of Green Lawn’s largest customers, and we have a very good relationship with them. They had snow removal for Willow Ridge down to a science and had a proven process in place for the community with very few issues. This was the service level we all came to expect.
For the last several years, we have been very fortunate in that we have had limited snow events. This benefited the community with significant cost savings. Each time the crew is out it costs the community $12,000-15,000. This allowed us to feel comfortable that snow removal was not an issue within the community.
Late last year when we renewed our landscaping contract, Green Lawn indicated that they could no longer provide snow removal services. Green Lawn spent considerable time trying to find a model that would work for Willow RIdge and their other customers. They looked at subcontracting to another provider but in the end determined that it just would not work for them. The Board was faced with trying to find a new snow contractor in a very short period of time. Green Lawn was very helpful in sharing the specifications and even recommending a couple of other companies to consider. The Board put out a request to a number of snow removal companies for bids and ultimately selected our current snow contractor, Hermes Landscaping. The Board found that getting bids from vendors was a challenge. Each had different ways of defining service, and many were unresponsive. We also found that some of these companies were small which concerned us, and some were very large which also concerned us. Unfortunately, we were into late October 2018 and were concerned about having a contract in place quickly so that we could provide service to the community.
We chose Hermes due to the completeness of the bid, their size and the fact that they were interested in our landscaping business, so we figured they would be able to deliver, would be attentive to our needs, and we might be able to get back to a single provider for all our services. Their landscaping bid was cost-prohibitive to us.
We have had issues with snow removal this year. Some of those are on our vendor, and some are on the expectations of the Board and the community. With any new working relationship, there will be issues to start and the hope for improvement over time. There are 3 main areas the the Board is looking at with this relationship: Service performance, Cost and Communication (ease of working with).
The Board has also learned a couple of important things about how we need to structure a snow contract in the future. Issues like communication, what triggers them to plow, damage repair process, completion time, equipment used and hours of operation are all things that need to be considered. Historically, Willow Ridge had a good relationship and service expectation with Green Lawn’s snow removal, and none of the bids addressed all of these issues.
Going forward, the Board has a better understanding of what we need in the contract and a level of expectation to set with the vendor moving forward.
As both Board members and residents, we have to keep the following in mind: ● It is a monumental task to remove snow in a community like ours. ● The vendor needs to get some experience -- to know know how long an event takes, what equipment works best and what the landscaping/driveways are like. ● If we want it done quickly, they are going to have to work overnight. ● They are going to damage things (sod, landscaping, etc). If you can do anything to prevent that from happening or to help them, that would help (marking the edges of the drive with a fiberglass pole, moving decorative items close the the edge of the drive, moving cars). ● Once they plow, blowing snow, the city plows and additional snow will impact your driveway. The vendor will not be back to clean these up. ● They will not plow around cars in the driveway. This is for liability and to minimize potential damage. If you car is in the driveway, plan to shovel around it and under it. ● It will not be done to the same level as if we had done it ourselves. ● Give them time to complete the process. ● Remember they are just guys making a living. The guy with the shovel or in the loader is hired to do the work and is not responsible for the contract. ● Contact the Board with issues, damage or missed drives.
A snow removal event is very time consuming for the Board. We communicate prior to a storm about what we think the accumulation will be, and we monitor the weather closely. As we get closer to the event, one Board member communicates with our vendor, one updates the website, and all of us monitor the community. We have all driven the community while they were plowing to check on progress, missed drives and damage reports. One Board member even provided food and water for a snow crew who had been at it for 12 or so hours in the hopes that they would stay and finish up. (Yes, this is a topic for the vendor, but it illustrates that the Board spends a significant amount of time on these events). After a snow, we have damage, missed drives and eventually the invoicing that all need to be dealt with.
Ultimately, we weigh the depth of snow, the impact to the community and the cost of having the crews come out. We understand that some residents really need the snow removed due to age or mobility issues, while others will shovel their own drive as opposed to waiting.
As to our current status, this has been an incredibly challenging snow season. A new provider rushing into a contract and the number of snow events so far has really taken its toll. The Board is working with Hermes on improving the removal process while at the same time working though some challenges with communication and invoicing. The amount of time this has taken from the Board this year is substantial. We are on a 3 year contract with Hermes with a 1 year re-evaluation and a 30-day cancellation provision. The Board will be considering all options once this snow season is done.
Add to this, we have recently lost one of the 4 volunteer Board members, so the task is that much more monumental.
We share this with the community so you have insight into what goes into snow removal, what your Board is doing, and where we stand for the remainder of the season.