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Storms Busting Snow Budgets

Posted on 02 February 2011

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By Kathryn G. Menu

Taking the reins from decades-long village employee Jim Early this fall, Sag Harbor Superintendent of Public Works Dee Yardley has experienced what Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride called “baptism by fire,” as Long Island experienced record snowfalls in December and January. This which has had a chilling impact on snow removal budgets.

With a storm that battered the northeast, raining down ice on the East End Tuesday and Wednesday, the National Weather Service reporting a 30 percent chance of snow on Saturday, and even more snowfall early next week, it does not appear there is an end in sight.

“And we have probably six more weeks to go,” said Mayor Gilbride.

Winter storms in late December and January brought anywhere from five to 12 inches of snow to Long Island, areas further west hit even harder in the tempests.

“It is certainly the worst winter weather-wise that I have seen since I have been on the board,” said Mayor Gilbride. “We are breaking records all over the place.”

In addition to breaking snow accumulation statistics, the seemingly continuous winter weather, broken up by just a few days of frigid sunshine in-between, has also impacted village and town budgets for snowfall removal.

In Sag Harbor Village, which has a budget year that begins each July as opposed to towns who begin budget years in January, the Department of Public Works has already blown through more than half of its budgeted monies for snow removal supplies and employee overtime.

According to Sag Harbor Village Clerk Beth Kemper, the village has budgeted $15,000 for supplies and has already spent $9,396. Overtime was budgeted at $45,000 for 2010-2011, and  $ 16,118.06 has already been spent.

And that was before the storm that hit the northeast Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Mayor Gilbride said while he does expect the village will exceed its budget for snow removal this year it does have a $50,000 contingency line to deal with such a situation.

Mayor Gilbride added that moving into budget talks later this month, one plan he would like to see implemented next year is municipally run sidewalk plowing in the village downtown, as well as around Sag Harbor schools.

By law, business owners and residents are responsible for clearing their own sidewalks, but after the January storm the village did clear some sidewalks around Sag Harbor. Mayor Gilbride said some residents, whose sidewalks they were unable to get to, chastised the village.

“It’s something we all have to work on,” he said. “We all have to do a better job — the village and the community at large. Today, I was driving down Jermain Avenue and kids were walking in the street to school, and rightfully so because a lot of the sidewalks were covered in two inches of snow and ice.”

In Southampton Town, Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor said during the December storm, his department logged over 1,500 hours in regular and overtime hours and spent $57,000 in outside contractors. The total cost of the storm was $212,469, he said.

While the January snowfall was equally devastating to the area, Gregor said because it did not occur during the holidays, it was less costly. About $178,295 was spent clearing roads and sidewalks during that two-day storm.

His snow removal budget, Gregor estimated, will most certainly be exceeded this year.

“We have already asked for more money for salt,” he said. “We had $150,000 budgeted and we are asking for $240,000.”

The now three-year-long town hiring freeze frustrates Gregor, particularly during this kind of weather. Some districts within the town, he said, have just five or six employees working to keep the roads and sidewalks cleared and parking lots plowed when they used to have 12.

“When you have five people doing what 10 did, it is discouraging,” added Gregor. “But we keep going, because that is what we do.”

In East Hampton, Superintendent of Highways Scott King said that the cost of the last storm remains uncertain, but according to his estimates, the department spent a little over $100,000 in January combating snow and ice on town roads. He said he calculates that for every inch of snow, it costs the town about $13,400.

The town’s highway fund expenditures were budgeted this year at $5,525,397, although King noted costs for snow removal are located throughout several line items, including $65,000 budgeted solely for subcontracts for snow removal and $200,000 budgeted for snow removal supplies.

This week, the town board approved several budget transfers in the wake of the record snowfall, including $50,000 in surplus for snow and ice removal supplies, as well as $15,000 for subcontractors to plow parking lots and private roads.

With a hefty surplus, King is not worried that the town will be unable to keep roads cleared, but that if this pace keeps up, his budget will be tight and supplies like salt could be harder to come by, despite the town’s contract with the New York State Office of General Services.

On Tuesday, King said he was combing through the town’s contract with the state agency after finding promised loads of salt were not being delivered in a timely fashion, and believes he may be able to source the salt elsewhere and charge back to that state agency.

“It is tough to sit in this chair and look at the weather reports and think about safety and the budget at the same time,” said King. “You have be conscientious, but you also have to make it all work, and at the end of the day you are either a hero or a zero.”

As for this week, it is King’s hope snow will give way to rain.

“Hail and rain,” he hoped. “I would do a rain dance in front of Saks Fifth Avenue if I could assure it would guarantee us rain this weekend.”

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