BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – With chances of snow around 30% each day for Sunday through Thursday, according to the National Weather Service, city and county officials are hoping for the lighter end to ease the squeezing of snow removal budgets.
County Engineer Ben Hull said this year has been hard on his snow and ice control budget, and on staff.
“Generally, we had budgeted for snow and ice control at $221,000 this year and so far this year we’ve spent $300,000 and that doesn’t include the snow we had this weekend,” Hull said Thursday afternoon.
He said the secondary roads budget is in line but that specific line item is taking a hit. Hull said they started the winter with just under 200 tons of salt and contracted for 1,450 tons more. To date, county crews have used right at 1,600 tons of salt on county roads, when over the past 10 years the county has averaged around 950 tons. Hull put in an order for more salt last week.
“This is historical salt usage. This year is the most we’ve used in 10 years, with the next highest being last year when we put down 1,250,” he said.
“With the frequency and varying types of precipitation and temperatures, we’ve had a bigger impact on supplies, staff, and funds.”
Fort Madison Public Works director Larry Driscoll said he’s at about 81% of his budget for snow and ice removal.
“The city did buy about $25,000 worth of salt this year, Driscoll said. “We did have 700 tons of salt on hand before the winter season and we are down to 100 tons of salt or about three more snow events.”
Driscoll said snow storms with 1″ of snow typically cost the city about $7,500. Each storm that is over 2” costs the city about $11,500 and anything over 3” is about $15,000.
“The cost to clean the downtown area is $4,500 and that is completed when we have 3” or more. My snow budget is $100,000 and that will be for salt, sand, fuel, manpower, and when we hire someone to help haul the snow away,” Driscoll said.
Hull said county snow removers have worked a lot of overtime keeping the county’s roads clear. At one point he said staff worked 25 out of 26 days and some of those days were 14 hour days. Crews will come into work at 4:30 a.m. and sometimes be on the road until 6 p.m.
Hull said staff has been battling the snow for about seven weeks in a row, even on days when there is no snow to remove.
“Until this past week, it’s been seven weeks solid battling this,” he said. “The other days from not having to push snow and ice, we’ve been hauling salt and sand for replenishment.”
The county also had a snow plow tip on its side after sliding on icy conditions, but Hull said that didn’t affect the budget too heavily. He said the truck had light body damage but had to have some fluids and things checked from the spill.
He said the overall roads budget is still in line.
“It doesn’t mean the overall budget is blown,” Hull said. “We budget across several catagories across several years and pro-rating salaries. Some of that salary we used on snow removal would have been spent elsewhere. But overtime from the storms that occurred over the weekend added to our salary line.”