2017-03-31 / Front Page

Winter takes toll on road budget

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Anyone who doubts this was a hard winter on local road crews need not review recent selectboard discussion on the topic. The proof is in the numbers.

According to Kennebunk Finance Director Joel Downs, “We are seeing budget overages and we may be requesting up to $150,000 be transferred from the unassigned general fund balance to cover the spending.”

However, as Downs noted in a March 27 reply to an enquiry from the Post on the town’s winter budget status, much will depend on whether there are any early spring storms, and on what savings can be found before the annual town meeting.

“We may be able to ‘tighten the belt’ as we all do with our personal budgets, to reduce spending in the final quarter of the 2017 fiscal year,” Downs wrote. “We will only transfer if authorized, and only the amount needed.”

Using “estimated round numbers,” Down’s said the following line items are in the public works budget are currently in the red — overtime (by $25,000), maintenance ($35,000), salt ($60,000), And snow removal ($10,000), for a total of roughly $130,000.

Still, there have been savings in some areas. While the town has spent $152,622 on 2,403 tons of salt, at $63.52 per ton from Morton Salt in Portsmouth — versus a budget of $99,000 for the expected need of 1,500 tons at $66 per ton — the sand budget is a place from which the town can draw savings, as it is possible to transfer funds between line items within department budgets without a special vote.

For sand, purchased from Dayton Sand & Gravel, Kennebunk budgeted $30,000 for 4,300 tons, at $7 per ton. However, to date it has only gone through 1,398 tons at $6.92 per ton, spending just $9,676.

Downs said Kennebunk currently has about 75 tons of salt and 100 tons of sand on hand before it will need to place another purchase order.

Meanwhile, overtime is not as bad as in recent years, despite the tough sledding faced by road crews. At the March 15 selectmen’s meeting, public works supervisor Scott Wentworth said plow drivers started at 7 a.m. on March 14 and did not get sent home until 3 p.m. the following day, with many due back at 8 p.m. for extra snow removal duty and some of those still slated to work a regular shift the next day.

Still while the town has spent $49,800 on overtime so far this year, and that eclipses the $28,000 spend last year, Kennebunk did spend more on the winter of 2013-2014, and 2014- 2015, at $54,700 and $62,000, respectively.

At the March 15 meeting, Wentworth acknowledged that, during parts of the storm, there were “some roads that weren’t all that great.” Still, he said, that crew has to do the best it can with the level of manpower and number of trucks within the means of local taxpayers.

“With this sized town, we’re on kind of a limited resource for men and equipment, but we try to keep it that way,” he said.

“We are challenged, but that is absolutely no reflection on the crew,” Town Manager Mike Pardue said. “We are trying to do an awful lot with a little as far as resources. We will be looking at what other types of contract services we may need, and on product [salt] application procedures.”

During reports to selectmen following each of the recent two large storms, Wentworth left the podium to the accompaniment of applause from the audience on hand. However, selectboard chairman Dick Morin said that apart from those tokens of thanks, “there has been an overwhelming sense of disappointment and lack of patience and understanding from residents who have contacted the town regarding this past week of weather.”

Morin, however, rose to the defense of the road crew, writing in a recent email to the Post, “Our team works long and hard during weather events and based upon my conversations with some of them, it takes four hours of non-stop plowing to hit each road in town. So imagine, after the last snowflake falls, they still have four hours of work ahead of them. That doesn’t include the sidewalks, pushing back intersections and removal from the downtown area. There are just so many hours in the day and so many people to do the work.”

For each storm, the road crew maintains 226 lane miles of roads and approximately 32 miles of sidewalks.

“I received a comment the other day that we should plan ahead for large events and hire other/more people,” Morin wrote. “Though it sounds practical and possible, we have not had success with ‘stand-by’ drivers willing to work only when Mother Nature mandates. It just isn’t that easy.

“Our team of 13 to 15 individuals know the equipment, the roads, the timing and trouble areas and do a darn good job at keeping our town open and moving during the roughest of times,” Morin wrote. “I feel that it is unrealistic to expect more from them. I would hope that we might show a little patience and compassion for the crew and understand the hard work they do under very difficult conditions.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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