2014-02-28 / Front Page

Winter budgets feeling pinch

Departments already making financial plans for next year’s snowstorms
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

Many who live in Maine describe the winters with terms such as harsh, frigid or bitter. Ask any of the three public works departments and they will likely add, costly.

Each year, around this time, the public works departments of Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport project a winter resources budget for the following year.

“We’ve already made the estimate for next year,” said Michael Claus, superintendent for the Kennebunkport Highway Department. “You basically base it on probably eight big storms a year ... Take the average of what you’ve used over time and that becomes the number.”

Said Claus, “In a year like this it wouldn’t be unusual for the towns to go over budget. Under state law, the one item that can be overspent without having to go back to the voters is the winter budget.”

According to town officals, snowfall totals are inching ever closer to the century mark. As of Feb. 19, Kennebunkport and Kennebunk have recorded between 75 and 85 inches of snowfall, respectively, and Arundel, 90 inches.

Kennebunk Public Services Director Thomas Martin Jr. said, “We have exhausted our salt, sand and overtime budget for the town. We have a little of our snow removal budget left, but it will not cover our shortfall.”

Kennebunk has exceeded its conjectured $90,000 budget for salt by $2,000, Martin said.

The town has also exceeded its $30,000 budget for sand by approximately 25 percent. The sand, which tends to be $2,000 per load, is delivered in 30-yard containers.

The amount budgeted for snow removal for downtown Kennebunk is approximately $40,000 and the town has also exceeded those resources by about 50 percent.

“The overtime budget, which is factored in with our year-round budget, is $36,000. As of last month, we were in the red by $1,000,” Martin said.

The additional funds were taken out of the town’s surplus, said Martin, who then referenced a law passed by Maine a few years ago.

“Specific to towns and their budgets it said that they couldn’t just spend money, unchecked. The only thing that can go unchecked is emergency services,” Martin said. “In other words, the roads always have to get plowed. We do have a budget, but we have to spend what we have to spend.”

So far this winter, Kennebunkport has used 1,038 yards of sand and 599 tons of salt.

The town has purchased 1,016 tons of salt, total, at a cost of approximately $50,300. The town has 400 tons of salt left in its stock.

“What was unusual about this winter was the amount of black ice earlier in the winter,” Claus said. “We didn’t get much snow, but it seemed like we were out there a lot, and it caused overtime.”

Kennebunkport is over budget on overtime, too, but there is money to be spent on salt and sand.

In the wintertime, Kennebunkport’s low speed limit, low traffic roads prove to be advantageous money-saving factors for the town, Claus said, because sand is considerably cheaper than salt.

“A lot of times towns have salt priority, but during those black ice events we used sand,” he said. “Sand can be effective on low speed and low volume roads. Most of Kennebunkport is 25 miles per hour and sand is effective out there.”

Sand tends to not be nearly as safe or effective on roads with speed limits above 45, Claus said.

“Higher velocity knocks sand right off (the road),” he said. “For smaller towns with lower speeds, sand can be very effective. Bigger towns are using more salt, but we don’t have to.”

To date, Arundel has exceeded its $24,000 overtime budget by approximately $3,000. “But we will make up for that by cutting back some of the activities this spring, said Town Manager Todd Shea. “Year-to-date we have used 1,619 yards of sand and 455 tons of salt.

“We have also used 802 gallons of liquid calcium chloride, which is required when temperatures are as cold as they have been this winter. Salt only works down to a certain temperature.”

A $24,000 overtime budget, said Shea, “is typically enough to get us through. This winter has been harsh due to the long, back-to-back events and the very bitter cold.

“I still remember winters being tougher than this one when I was a kid, but my memory could be serving me poorly. I think that we have possibly been spoiled in the past few years. Last year may have been close in the number of inches that we got, but one also needs to remember that approximately 30 inches of last year’s snow came in a single event.”

Shea surmised that public works offi- cials, as well as residents, are ready for spring.

“We’ll get through. There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel after the weekend’s warmer than usual weather pattern.

“I think another thing that made it seem like a long winter for the folks here is that I believe there has been snow on the ground since December. We didn’t get the normal melt. I’ll just be happy to see it over with. And I think all of the road crews around the state will be happier than that.”

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