Mild winter didn’t exactly save towns money for snow removal | News | journalinquirer.com
While the state saw a milder than usual winter this year, the increased price of salt, the timing of the storms in the region, and overtime expenses still ended up costing many towns roughly the same amount to keep roads clear.
Still, some municipalities did see some savings over previous years, but many already have plans for those funds.
In Tolland, Town Manager Brian Foley said the Department of Public Works had budgeted $146,416 for snow removal overtime for fiscal year 2022-23.
“We also budgeted $149,655 for treated salt and winter sand, as well as another $8,500 for contracted services for seasonal help with the clearing of snow from the Birch Grove Elementary School, as well as for supplemental snow plow drivers when needed,” Foley said.
“The sand and salt account has been completely depleted, while there is a balance of approximately $5,405 remaining in the contracted services line,” he said.
Foley said that the $5,405 along with the approximate $95,232 remaining in unspent overtime will be used to offset any shortfall for next season, as budget cuts are expected for the upcoming year.
Dwight Ryniewicz, director of Public Works in Vernon, said that town usually buys about 4,000 tons of salt a year, but had some left over from last year so only bought 3,000 tons for this past winter. About 500 tons of salt still remains of the stockpile, he said.
Ryniewicz said the town didn’t pre-treat roads as much as in previous years because most storms started out as just rain, which would have washed away the salt-brine liquid used to pre-treat roads.
Nonetheless, the town did exceed its overtime budget of $77,000 by 30% because the storms that the region did get were mostly overnight, he said.
When temperatures rose during the day and fell again after sunset, town workers also would have to treat parking lots and roads after the precipitation froze again, Ryniewicz said.
The town of Vernon budgeted about $100,000 for salt and spent all that was budgeted, using another $54,000 in Town Aid Road Grants that come from the state, he said.
Ryniewicz said the cost of salt increased in the last year, and there is only one supply contractor bid in the area through the Capitol Region Council of Governments, or CRCOG.
South Windsor Town Manager Michael Maniscalco said his town also did not receive much snow, but the duration and timing of precipitation coupled with sharply falling temperatures caused the town to use more salt than usual.
South Windsor’s remaining salt, which is stored in a shed under a cover, will be saved for next winter, he said.
Maniscalco said the town has spent $147,245 of the current snow removal budget, which originally started at $430,630.
The remaining $283,385 will be transferred to cover overages in other budget line items, he said.
Maniscalco added that any money still leftover would be swept into the town’s general fund balance.
Suffield Public Works Director Chris Matejek said the mild winter ended up saving his department about $100,000 compared to last year. The savings came in the form of less overtime and less money spent on outside contractors.
This winter the department spent about $67,000 on overtime for employees, compared to $100,000 last winter, and spent about $77,000 on contractors, compared to $147,000 last winter.
Matejek said the milder weather meant the department didn’t need to purchase as much salt or use as much fuel, but the savings were offset by inflation.
Although the department saved money, he doesn’t see the situation as leading to “extra” money. He’s not going to take that $100,000 and buy something else. However, the department does need some new equipment, such as a dump truck, to keep the fleet from growing too old, and any savings now could help obtain that down the road when town leaders analyze the budget, Matejek said.
While the figures aren’t tabulated yet in East Hartford, Mayor Mike Walsh said his town likely spent less money for snow-related costs this season compared to last. Overtime savings are difficult to track because the costs would be shifted to other tasks, he said.
“We house all overtime as one number, so that includes leaf collection, cleaning up parks in the spring, and snow removal,” Walsh said.
Walsh said any surplus in road salt means savings, since the town can buy less next season.
East Windsor Finance Director Amy O’Toole said that town doesn’t have a separate snow removal fund. Money used for snow removal is allocated under road maintenance.
There is currently $185,000 remaining in the original $300,000 road maintenance account, O’Toole said. East Windsor also has $130,000 allocated for salt and sand, and $126,000 of that was spent this winter.
“What we don’t spend in the salt and sand line, we spend out of the road maintenance for either drainage projects or road maintenance,” O’Toole said.
Coventry Town Manager, John Elsesser said he is not clear yet on how much money they may have left over, but he knows that next year there will be a full shed to start out with.
“Between three-quarters and a full shed is standard,” Elsesser said.
“I talked with our public works director, and we have some obligations for purchasing additional salt,” he said. “You have to commit to a certain amount, so we’ve ordered that.”
Elsesser said the town would use any excess money to purchase items requested for next year to get them out of the budget proposed for next fiscal year and minimize any potential increase.
“We’re looking at having a good use of funds for necessary things to save taxpayers money in future,” he said. “We’re buying as much salt as possible because we expect prices will continue to go up. Kind of like keeping your oil tank full.”
Somers also contracts annually for road salt through CRCOG and has a special revenue account for road maintenance.
Public Works Director Todd Rolland said the town’s expenses from that account includes winter road salt, tree trimming and removal, road patching, crack sealing, guide rail repairs, road line stripping, sign repair and replacement, drainage structure and catch basin repair work, catch basin cleaning, and engineering for larger projects.
For years when winters aren’t too bad, he said, Somers uses the money it didn’t spend on road salt for road maintenance projects, as there is always more work to be done.
Rolland said the town does not break out separately what is left over in snow removal expenses.
Windsor Town Manager Peter Souza said his town appropriated $397,000 for snow removal this past winter between two accounts.
A state grant funded $145,000 and the remaining $252,000 was budgeted in the general fund balance.
Between the two accounts, $156,000 remains. Souza said the $61,000 left in the general fund would be transferred to the town’s unassigned fund balance.
The $95,000 in state funds could be used to replenish salt supplies for the upcoming year.
Salt that wasn’t used this winter will also be stockpiled for the next season.
Journal Inquirer Staff Writers Collin Atwood, Susan Danseyar, Matthew P. Knox, Joseph Villanova, and Jamila Young contributed to this story.