Anne Arundel's snow job

January 24, 1994

Congratulations, Anne Arundel County. You survived Frozen Hell Week.

Incapacitating cold, power outages, frozen precipitation of every variety, ice-glazed sidewalks -- the most recent "snow event," as county road crews called it, left residents looking dazed and exhausted. Never mind that Central Maryland is oddly phobic about snow. Last Monday's storm and the accompanying sub-Arctic temperatures were a bona fide weather ordeal -- a test for the hardiest lovers of winter and for the powers that be whose job it is to keep the world moving when nature gets nasty.

We can't judge how the former fared, but the powers that be did a pretty good job. Even on the worst days, state road crews kept the major highways passable, if not clear. County crews toiled around the clock to make the arterial roads as safe as possible, given that removing the ice was a virtually impossible task. County police reported throughout the week that, with the obvious exception of back roads, the streets were in excellent shape given the circumstances, and they know better than anyone.

Anne Arundel seemed to have managed snow removal better than some of its neighbors. It had plenty of salt, unlike Baltimore County, which ran out despite a snow removal budget that far exceeds Anne Arundel's. Anne Arundel has spent $410,000 -- $130,000 over budget -- compared to Baltimore County, which has exceeded its $1 million snow budget. Even much smaller Carroll County has spent more than $755,000 -- and throughout the week many of the major roads in these counties were still in poor shape. Granted, Anne Arundel typically has less snow, so you expect its snow budget to be smaller. Still, the vast difference in its costs, and its results, speaks well for county management.

To make up for unexpected snow removal costs, the county will dip into its contingency fund or postpone road repairs. Some might ask why the county doesn't just set aside a larger snow budget. But the county's current approach makes sense, as long as officials have a contingency plan for handling unusually severe weather and know they will be able to secure extra supplies of salt and other materials if necessary. Budgeting each year for the kind of winter that comes but once every few decades would be just plain silly.

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