Carroll emergency fund will cover snow removal

February 20, 2003|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The Carroll commissioners don't know how badly last weekend's snowstorm will overwhelm the county's snow-removal budget, but the county's budget director said yesterday that emergency funds should be able to cover the cost without wreaking financial havoc.

But the county's eight municipalities - many with total budgets of a few million dollars - have less wiggle room, and several plan to seek relief from state and federal coffers.

The county had spent about 80 percent of its $780,000 snow-removal budget before the storm, said budget director Ted Zaleski. With the snow cleanup expected to cost about $750,000, the county probably will exceed that budget by at least $600,000, Zaleski said.

But the commissioners haven't had to reach deep into Carroll's $3 million contingency fund this year, so snow costs can be absorbed, Zaleski said.

"It's not a situation where we have to say, `Oh no, how are we going to pay for that?'" he added.

Zaleski said snow costs would be among the many small strains that will make it more difficult than usual for him to balance the county budget in the spring.

The commissioners said from the beginning that they wanted county crews to clear all of the snow and would worry about the cost later.

"The most important thing is that we get through without any injuries," Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said Monday morning. "The money, we'll figure out afterward. That's why we have a contingency fund."

The county kept 49 trucks and 150 workers in almost constant rotation between Sunday morning and Tuesday evening, with occasional four- and six-hour naps to keep employees rested. The county also rented more than 20 pieces of heavy machinery, such as front loaders and backhoes, from local contractors.

The combination of overtime pay and rent for extra equipment is always a budget buster during major storms, said Benton Watson, chief of Carroll's Bureau of Roads.

Sun staff writers Athima Chansanchai and Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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