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Lansing was buried with at least a foot of snow Wednesday night, which means that the Town Highway Department employees were busy clearing Lansing's nearly 100 miles of roadway while most of us were asleep. Earlier Wednesday evening Highway Superintendent Charlie 'Cricket' Purcell explained to the Town Board why his department has spent $8,400 so far on safety equipment and supplies required because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"That's our Governor's unfunded mandate," he said. "Two items per essential worker per shift. We got ahead of that game. We have the six months supply required by that mandate to take care of all of our essential employees of the Town."

Councilman Joseph Wetmore questioned the expense.

"What are we buying for $8000?" he asked. "Masks are 50 cents. Hand sanitizer is $30 per gallon."

Purcell said the Town had saved money purchasing a six month supply, as well as guaranteeing that his employees will have the equipment when it is needed. He said that including a few outstanding invoices the total is at about $9,300, but before finding some 'great deals' on masks, gloves, and other supplies they expected to spend between $10,500 and $11,000.

"The masks aren't 50 cents apiece. They're $3.50 apiece. We're talking about 22 people, two items per shift-- a six months supply. We're talking about masks, face shields, latex gloves, hand sanitizer -- I know I'm missing a couple of things. It's the quantities we're buying to cover a six months span to get ahead of this mandate. Masks should be 50 cents apiece -- but we thought we were getting a good deal at $3.50 because we were getting quotes for $4.50 to $5.50 apiece. And then there was the availability of getting them."

Purcell said that he doesn't anticipate needing to purchase more pandemic supplies until around February, and noted that by then the need for the supplies may be different. He said that even if the department ends up with a surplus the supplies will still be used. He cited disposable latex gloves as being useful for sewer and water system work, for example.

"We're planning on running it down at this point. We wanted to get ahead of it, because back in March trying to get anything was next to impossible. We probably had a month's worth of stuff that we were working with. We got ahead six months. So at this point we wouldn't be ready to order more until February. But hopefully we'll get a better idea of whether things are calming down by then. $8,000 seems crazy, but we want to make sure the Town's protected," Purcell said.

Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne noted that some of the Recreation Department employees are qualified to drive the big plow trucks when the Highway Department needs more help. But he said that COVID has reduced that pool of substitutes even as it has taken a few regular Highway Department employees out of service while waiting out their quarantines -- one was only a few days from the end of his quarantine, but another had over a week to go.

"Three of the five Rec Department employees are down due to COVID," LaVigne said. "A couple of our employees are sick and one had to be quarantined. That means we lost at least one driver. Last year we had three guys go down with the flu and the Rec Department jumped in. What Mike (Deputy Highway Superintendent Mike Moseley) and Cricket are doing is trying to minimize that exposure like we're doing at the Town Hall. They come in. They get in their truck. Then they go home. They haven't congregated for -- probably nine months. They do their thing and they're gone -- you guys run a good ship. But the bug is out there, and if someone's child brings it home we've got a problem. Someone's got to push the snow."

Purcell had high praise for Moseley's handling the COVID problem from the beginning, and for staying on top of new mandates from Albany and making sure the department is safe. LaVigne said he authorized the expense because Moseley told him that the supplies were available now, but aren't likely to be readily available in the coming months.

"That's why we need these masks," LaVigne explained. "Mike came to me and said 'there's going to be a waiting list and I want to get in front of this'. So if people want to be mad at me for spending the money ahead of time.. because you know what? The Health Department has no more masks. They have some hand sanitizer and that's it. I don't want to be in the situation three months from now where we have nothing and the Governor is stomping down our throats saying 'I demand you do this...' and there's nothing out there. So thank goodness Mike Moseley and Cricket got in front of this thing. Otherwise we'd be in a pickle."

The expense sounds like a lot, but consider this: the Lansing Central School District spent a half million dollars this year on COVID-related supplies including masks and sanitizer, equipment, signage, and related items.

LaVigne said the Town has to do 'the best we can' under the mandates that come from Albany and a pandemic that nobody has control over.  That's exactly what the highway crew was doing Wednesday night.

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