Towns ahead, for now, after mild winter start
By Matthew Rice
Frigid winter temperatures finally hit the region over the weekend, but the warm start to the winter, along with far less snow than usual, has been a boon to local highway departments – in a variety of ways.
In Granville, highway Superintendent John Tanner said his department is doing well in terms of the budget despite the tough winter of 2010-2011,
While unseasonably warm temperatures and lack of snowfall and ice have meant fewer expenditures in the areas that drive the highway department budget, from overtime to fuel, to sand and salt a snapshot view of the highway budget at this moment shows the department is about $20,000 ‘to the good’ – for now.
“That doesn’t mean it going to stay saved,” Tanner said.
Due to budgeting practices a tough spring 2012 or bad fall 2012 could mean spending those funds and maybe more.
Towns spilt the winter months across two budget years, with the second year starting January 1, he said.
Due to heavy snow and steady cold, which at times dipped into periods with temperatures well below zero, Tanner said the budget was strained in 2010-2011 with overtime and the purchase of salt, sand and fuel.
“You’ve got to realize it all adds up, whether it’s an inch or ten inches it costs us the same amount to clean it up,” Tanner said.
The mild weather helped the highway budget recover, he said, and helped the department catch up on work they weren’t able to do in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.
Hartford highway superintendent Greg Brown said the weather was so good, not only did his crew get more work done; they actually stayed on their summer work schedule. “We’re still doing a lot of digging and ditching, it’s been awesome,” Brown said. “We’re definitely ahead of the curve.”
Although frost recently set in again, Brown said the ground has remained soft enough to even allow his crew to install culverts, work unheard of in a typical December or January.
In addition to the savings sighted by other highway department heads, Brown said remaining on the four-day, 10-hour schedule saved money with heat and lights for the building.
Like his compatriots, Brown always has an eye on the horizon for incoming trouble. “We still have some time left, we’re not through January yet and it can go the other way in an awful hurry,” he said.
In Hebron the highway department has experienced the same reprieve from what can be long hours of overtime from plowing.
“It’s good for the budget as long as we don’t have to pay for it in April,” Hebron highway superintendent Floyd Pratt said.
While the highway plows have stayed in the barn, Pratt said the chainsaws and other equipment were out allowing the crews to catch up on brush cutting that couldn’t be done when the end of August brought flooding to the region. After conducting needed flooding-related repairs for FEMA in the town, the mild weather has let the highway crew catch up on its ‘to do’ list, he said.
“We’re getting caught up on stuff, that hardly ever happens, getting caught up on brush in January, so that’s good,” he said.
In addition to allowing for other work, Pratt pointed out that every storm the area does not get is time the equipment can stay off the roads. “(Mild weather) saves wear and tear on the trucks, the payloader, even heat in the building – it saves on everything,” Pratt said. Speaking from home, Pratt said he could not place a dollar figure on what the mild weather has saved Hebron residents thus far, and he was quick to add an icy spring or fall could erase all of those savings gains.
Just a few miles north, Pratt’s nephew Whitehall highway Superintendent Louie Pratt said, “We’re all about in the same boat. We’re in pretty good shape for this year.”
“Last spring we took a hard hit but now we’re sitting pretty good, we haven’t used much of anything and we got some other things done with the warmer weather,” Pratt said.
Back-to-back tough winters can put a highway department in a bind budget and supply-wise, Pratt said.
After a winter like 2010-2011, “You hope and pray you don’t have another bad year so this is coming at the right time,” he said.