2015-02-27 / Community

Too much white has towns seeing red

Kennebunk, Kennebunkport running over budget
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

Kevin Reck a 26-year employee of the Kennebunk Public Works Department gives a wave from his home-away-from-home these past few weeks, as storm after storm has kept him behind the wheel along with the rest of the town’s road crew. 
(Duke Harrington photo) Kevin Reck a 26-year employee of the Kennebunk Public Works Department gives a wave from his home-away-from-home these past few weeks, as storm after storm has kept him behind the wheel along with the rest of the town’s road crew. (Duke Harrington photo) Kevin Reck isn’t just any plow truck driver.

As the two-time and defending champion of the Maine Snow Plow Rodeo for public works employees, he knows how to move snow and only snow. He’s placed as high as third in the national competition, hosted by the American Public Works Association, just to clear any doubt. And, as a 26-year employee of the Kennebunk Department of Public Works, Reck has seen it all.

But this season has tested even his abilities.

“This is probably the toughest year I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It’s just been one storm right after the other. Since the [Jan. 27] blizzard, we just haven’t been able to get caught up on sidewalks in some of the developments. I can’t remember a time when we haven’t caught up on sidewalks.”

Kennebunk Town Manager Barry Tibbetts, who’s also logged more than two decades on the municipal payroll, agrees.

“I think this year has probably been in the top one or two snow events that we’ve had in the time I’ve been here,” said Tibbetts. “I’ve never seen this much snow. I think it’s safe to say any town you call is going to be over budget at this point.”

In fact, Kennebunk, which generally budgets for 6-8 storms per season, is currently almost $70,000 in the red on winter road maintenance.

“It’s how good your crystal ball is,” Tibbetts said. “We absolutely did not anticipate the amount of snow we got. I don’t think anybody did.”

Tibbetts said he expects to end the season over budget by $110,000, if current trends hold. Although state law does allow municipalities to over-expend their winter roads budgets, and savings may be found elsewhere in Kennebunk’s public works department, it has always been the practice of selectmen to go to voters with a referendum at town meeting to appropriate funds to cover the shortfall, “Tibbetts said.

Meanwhile, over in Kennebunkport, Town Manager Laurie Smith says she’s in a similar boat. The annual line item to cover overtime hours incurred by the town’s five plow drivers is $17,000. So far this season, the town has spent $33,000, Smith said.

The town also is 10 percent over budget on salt supplies, having already used all that it expected to buy this year. It also is three-quarters of the way through the 1,000 cubic yards of sand it stockpiles each fall.

Currently, Smith says, it looks like enough savings might be found in various public works line items to keep from overspending the budget as a whole, but it could be a fine line come mud season.

“It’s really difficult to say at this point, every storm puts us closer,” Smith said.

“I’ve been requested by my manager to look at other accounts in my department and to not spend, to try and have savings in those accounts to make up for shortfalls in our winter operations,” said Kennebunkport’s Director of Public Works, Michael Claus, at the most recent selectmen’s meeting.

In Arundel, interim Town Manager Jack Turcotte could not be reached for comment, but Public Works Director Roger Taschereau sang the same song as his peers on Tuesday.

“It’s been a real tough winter,” he said. “We’ve been chasing snow and when we’re not doing that we’ve been trying to keep the fleet going.

“I really don’t have any up-to-date budget figures because we’re in the middle of the month,” Taschereau said, “but I know we’re in trouble budget-wise. We’ve had 32 calls so far this winter and counting, and more coming in tonight.”

As Taschereau intimated, local towns have had as much or more trouble with equipment than manpower. Municipal plow drivers can spend an entire shift behind the wheel, bed down for a couple of hours, sometimes in the town garage if a storm is still raging, and then be right back at it the next night clearing snow and cutting back banks.

“I’m not sure any one of us has got more than four or five hours sleep at once for the past month, at least,” said Reck, referring to the 12 drivers he works with to clear 113 miles of road and nearly 40 miles of sidewalk in Kennebunk.

Yet, even so, it’s been the machinery, not the men, that has given way.

In Kennebunk, for example, where interim Public Works Director Michael Pardue jokes that he brought the mess with him when he started just prior to the Jan. 27 blizzard, the town lost three trucks during that event.

“It was amazing how quickly our guys were able to turn those vehicles around and get them back on the road,” Pardue said. “These guys are an exceptional group of people. I’ve been amazed at their dedication and the pride that they demonstrate in the work they perform — and not an ounce of complaining.

“We may not have had as much total snow as in some recent years, but it’s been one storm right after another,” Pardue said. “It’s been plowing, then their regular duties throughout the day, then snow removal at night, then a short rest and right back at it again, and they don’t think anything of it.”

In Kennebunkport, the town has had less luck getting its 2007 sidewalk plow back in action. Its broken hydrolic valve is made in Italy had to be shipped through Canada. Twice, Claus has ordered a replacement and twice, he says, the company has sent him the wrong part. That’s left crews dragging the village walks with a backhoe, at least apart from Dock Square, where EMA Director James Burrows has shoveled a path by hand.

Still, the snow will have to end sometime. After all, in between the interminable times behind the wheel, Pardue has his crew logging time building lifeguard stands and dories, the latter used as downtown planters.

Meanwhile, Reck is looking forward to vacation in a couple of weeks, when he’ll be relaxing in what, he hopes, will sunny Florida.

“And that will be it for the overtime,” he joked, as he jumped into his rig for another round of snow removal in West Kennebunk. “Mike may have brought the storms here with him, but I’m taking all the overtime hours away with me.”


How does this season’s snow total stack up to recent years? Here are the measurements taken at the Kennebunk- Kennebunkport-Wells Water District Office on York Street, provided by the Kennebunk Department of Public Works.

Season Storms/Biggest/Average/Total
2007-2008 23 11.4” 4.7” 108.5”
2008-2009 15 16.4” 5.6” 83.5”
2009-2010 14 9.4” 3.1” 42.8”
2010-2011 21 14.8” 3.6” 75.6”
2011-2012 11 8.5” 2.9” 32.0”
2012-2013 22 22.6” 5.2” 113.8”
2013-2014 16 15.3” 4.7” 75.4”
2014-2015* 25 12.0” 3.7” 92.3”

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