Busting the Snow Removal Budget

January 20, 1994

Snow, sleet, freezing rain and frigid temperatures have made driving on Carroll's roads as exciting as a ride on a roller coaster and as nightmarish as an evening with the Joker. Even though Monday's storm is a now a memory, its legacy of ice-encrusted roads and sidewalks remain. These thick patches of ice refuse to disappear. Warmed by the radiant heat of the sun, compacted snow and ice liquefy during the day and freeze solid at night.

To remove the snow and ice from the roads, county and town governments have crews plowing and spreading thousands of tons of salt on the roads. In their efforts to make the roads drivable, all of these governments are overspending their snow budgets. Even though the revenue picture for all levels of government is improving, county and town governments may have to cut back in other areas of spending or take it out of next year's budget.

At present, Carroll County has spent more than $755,000, or about 40 percent more than it budgeted, for snow removal. The winter is barely half over, which means that there will be more snow and ice on the roads. As a result, there is a good chance that this fiscal year, the county could end up spending twice the budgeted amount on snow removal.

To compensate for the larger-than-expected spending on snow removal, county officials may have to cut back on other road-related activities such as repairs and resurfacing. While it will balance the budget, there is a drawback. During the past three years of austere budgets, the county intentionally reduced its spending in these areas. This was supposed to be the fiscal year the county would attend to the neglected road repairs and resurfacing.

The other way to cover the unanticipated costs of snow removal is to dip into next year's budget, a risky proposition because that means the snow removal budget will be depleted before the first snowflake falls next winter. If we see a repeat of the current winter, the county will need every snow removal dollar it has budgeted.

Staying within the snow removal budget is certainly an admirable goal, but there is no way to effectively control it. The weather -- and not government officials -- dictates how much the county ultimately will end up spending.

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