An active 2016 winter storm season has spurred local governments to expand their winter budgets this year in preparation for unpredictable weather and large storms capable of producing record snowfall.
Winter budgets planning typically begins in the summer months, but can extend up to a year or more in advance for things like purchasing and receiving new snow plows and other equipment.
Increased Winter Budgets Help Ease Fears About Preparation
In Washington D.C., winter budgets are up 85 percent over last year, which includes an additional $2.5 million to rent or lease equipment, $580,000 to purchase additional salt to treat streets and walking areas and $824,000 to expand the service of plow drivers.
I’m very pleased, it looks like we’re in pretty good shape, fingers crossed,” Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh said.
In Bend, Ore., the local government increased their winter budgets by 38 percent, after the previous winter brought the worst conditions the region had seen in decades. The increased funds will help pay for additional private contractors to plow highways and residential areas.
These additional contractors will free up other city workers and allow for better scheduling, increased productivity and less accidents.
Compared to last year, we’re adjusting our crew shifts to be more efficient,” David Abbas, Streets and Operations Department director, said. “The hope is that with the increase in efficiency we will be able to do more.”
Increased Equipment in Winter Budgets Bolsters Public Works Departments
In Upstate New York, a new $85,000 salt shed was unveiled in September, providing a better storage system for the area’s resources, which were previously stored outside on a tarp.
The salt and sand that will be stored in the shed will be used to coat the 35 lane miles for the town of Bainbridge, as well as seven lane miles for Chenango County.
The D.C. area has 10 new Gators — small golf cart-like vehicles that can both plow and lay salt — to clear bike lanes, trails, sidewalk ramps at intersections and bridge-deck sidewalks.
The district also has increased the use and scope of its 511 data portal that can track everything from the number of plows on the road to the progress made and the amount of vehicles towed. Residents can track plows and look at traffic camera images to gauge when areas near them will be cleared.
Scrutiny Over Previous Winter Budgets Can Help Make Adjustments in Planning
In Pennsylvania, a comparison of snow removal costs for the cities of Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and Hazleton revealed a huge difference in price.
A March blizzard blanketed the metropolitan area in so much snow that many residents were unable to leave their house for four days. During the snow removal process, the city of Wilkes-Barre spent nearly as much as Scranton and Hazleton combined on contract workers.
Records show Wilkes-Barre spent an estimated $1,004,000 on snow removal, compared to Scranton and Hazleton, which spent $580,000 and $390,000, respectively.
I can’t answer to what the other municipalities spent,” Ted Wampole, Wilkes-Barre city administrator, said. “I can tell you that the city responded with all the resources that we could possibly gather to fight this kind of a storm.”
The finances spent took on a different meaning after the federal government decided not to reimburse cities for snow removal. Eight counties were counting on a 75 percent reimbursement for the government that didn’t come.
“I think if we did it all over again, we would probably respond the same way. Of course, it’s in the back of your mind,” Wampole said. “I think next time, what happens, do we do anything different? Because you can’t run up a million dollar tab again.”
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