Ice, snow put chill on budgets Labor, equipment, salt costs mount

February 17, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer Staff writers Traci A. Johnson, Donna E. Boller, Mary Gail Hare and Greg Tasker contributed to this story.

Rain is free, but snow and ice can get expensive. After the past week's weather barrage, some county and town officials are beginning to look nervously at their budgets.

Carroll County roads operations worker Jay Nave said he came in Friday morning and worked 42 hours straight.

"A number of our people did the same," said Mr. Nave, administrative assistant to the chief of the county's Bureau of Road Operations. "We're talking a lot of overtime hours."

Mr. Nave said the county's salt trucks hit the road by 2 a.m.

He said almost 100 people and 60 pieces of equipment took part in the cleanup.

Mr. Nave said he hasn't added up the cost of the past week's storms yet. But he gave a "very ballpark" estimate that the county has spent about 70 percent of its snow-removal budget of $540,360 for the fiscal year.

If the budget is used up, Mr. Nave said, "The money would have to be found somehow."

The last time the roads department had to go back to the county for extra snow-removal money, he said, was in fiscal 1987-1988.

Randy Houck, acting resident maintenance engineer with the State Highway Administration in Westminster, said Carroll County has almost used up its SHA allotment of about $500,000.

"It's running very, very close right now," Mr. Houck said yesterday. "At this point, I'd say it's about 90 percent gone."

Mr. Houck said his office had 61 workers and 51 pieces of equipment in action at the peak of yesterday's snow-removal activity.

Mr. Houck's supervisor, Richard Lindsay, of the State Highway Administration's district office in Frederick, said, "We are cutting it very close, and we have some concerns."

Mr. Lindsay, assistant district engineer, said snow-removal funds usually run low in February.

But this year, ice has put a chill on the budget.

Mr. Lindsay said ice storms are harder on the budget than heavy snowfalls.

"A 10-incher can actually be cheaper than a 3-inch ice storm," he said.

The difference is in material costs.

"Salt is almost $30 a ton," he said. "That's $400 a pop every time a truck of salt goes out."

Even a small salt truck carries 8 or 9 tons of salt, he said.

Mr. Lindsay said that, if the winter roads-maintenance budget is used up, the highway administration will dip into its routine roads-maintenance budget.

He said the state also has the option of transferring money from areas that have had better weather to areas that have been snowed under. This year, he said, Western Maryland has been especially hard hit, and the Eastern Shore has had a relatively easy time.

Several Carroll municipalities reported they are still well within their snow-removal budgets.

Stephen V. Dutterer, Westminster's finance director, said, "Relatively speaking, I think we're OK."

Mr. Dutterer did not have figures for January or February. By the end of December, he said, the city had used $8,600 of $40,000 it had budgeted for payroll costs.

The city had used $500 of the $30,000 it had budgeted for salt and other expenses through the end of December, he said.

Manchester Town Manager Terry Short said yesterday that the town had used about 35 percent of its snow removal budget.

Hampstead Town Manager John Riley said that town is also within its snow-removal budget.

"We're in good shape," he said.

Taneytown City Manager Joseph A. Mangini Jr. said, "So far we are in good shape."

"We have about $1,000 budgeted to clear the streets, but of that little has gone for supply, like salt," he said.

He said overtime pay has not been a problem. After-hours work, which has occurred only once this winter for the city's utility crew, is not paid out of snow-removal funds, he said.

New Windsor officials also budgeted $1,000 for snow removal, which is done by the town's "Saturday employee" Dale Green, who supervises the mowing of town property in the summer.

Town Clerk Richard Warehime said, "He is paid from the street-clearing money, but we haven't had to use much of that this year."

He said, "If this snow keeps up like this, though, we could end up in trouble."

Mount Airy has budgeted $2,000 for snow removal this year. Sykesville has budgeted $4,500. Officials of those towns were unavailable to comment yesterday on how much of their budgets have been used.

Carroll County weather observer Larry A. Myers of Westminster, who reports to the National Weather Service, said, "We're not really breaking any records. . . . It just seems like it."

He said the county's January temperatures were 2.7 degrees above normal. This year, he said, more precipitation than usual has fallen as rain instead of snow.

There may be a silver lining behind all the recent storm clouds.

Mr. Myers said temperatures tend to rise enough by late February to make ice storms less likely.

"I'm not saying it can't happen," he said, but, "normally, the coldest part of winter is the last 10 days of January."

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