By Jim Schroeder
Snow and ice shouldn't put a freeze on local highways and secondary roads this season now that the Montana Department of Transportation has been permitted to hire seasonal snowplow operators.
Despite the statewide hiring freeze, the Montana Office of Budget and Program Planning granted MDT's request to hire seasonal snowplow operator positions when needed, budget director Chuck Swysgood said Monday.
The authorization was granted Wednesday, said Michael Johnson, Great Falls district administrator for MDT.
"We've been putting out ads for applications and it's critical to us to get those positions filled quickly and we're doing what we can," Johnson said. "Winter's around the corner and I'm not sure when we'll have snow on the ground, but it could be any day."
The Great Falls District of the MDT covers highways and various secondary roads from Helena to Canada and from Dodson to East Glacier.
"It's always been the case that these critical positions must be filled," Swysgood said. "The requests have been granted to fill these positions when needed."
The Office of Budget and Program Planning has had nearly 500 requests for executive departmental hiring since Gov. Judy Martz's executive order took effect last month, just before the special legislative session.
The Legislature also passed a bill that froze hiring for statewide elected officials. Both hiring freezes will remain in effect for the 2002-03 fiscal year.
The hiring freeze allows statewide executive agencies to promote workers but doesn't allow their former positions to be filled unless it's approved by the state Office of Budget and Program Planning.
Swysgood said the Office of Budget and Planning doesn't ordinarily grant blanket exemptions to state departments unless the job positions are absolutely essential.
"There was no doubt in my mind ever that we wouldn't have any trouble with the snowplow positions," MDT director Dave Galt said today. "And to date we haven't had trouble with any of the positions in the department."
Galt added that the department has the same number of seasonal snowplow operators as it did in September of last year.