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Md. Municipalities Saving Money During Mild Winter

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By SARAH LAKE

The Daily Times of Salisbury

SALISBURY, Md. (AP) — This winter’s unusually mild weather bodes well for taxpayers and local government, who stand to save a fair amount of money so long as temperatures stay high and snowplows stay parked.

In Salisbury, the “salt shed” on Delaware Avenue is filled to capacity at roughly 900 tons, valued at about $64,800. The city’s nine snowplows have yet to be deployed this season, despite a light wintry mix in the early hours of Jan. 21.

Teresa Gardner, director of Public Works, said a skeleton crew worked during that minor precipitation event at a meager cost of about $1,000. The only additional cost incurred by Public Works for this year’s snow removal was $8,000 spent to top off the salt shed, none of which has been used. The city budgeted $30,000 for salt brine. Leftover funds will be returned to the general fund surplus.

Last year, the department spent $131,395 on snow removal.

Gardner said after last year’s relatively active winter, the department quickly prepared for snow by stocking up on salt and rush ordering a new front-end loader. But the absence of snow is by no means a disappointment as the city is saving money and limiting wear on equipment and employees.

“A lot of (our employees) work two jobs,” Gardner said. “Saving money is nice, but it’s also nice that the guys don’t have
to work those long hours.”

None of Wicomico County’s 40 snowplows has been deployed and it has yet to use any of its 750 tons of salt this season, according to county spokeswoman Tamara Lee-Brooks.

Lee-Brooks said the Maintenance Weather Related Budget is $250,000 and covers various types of storms, including snow.

Leftover funds are transferred to cover other high-priority needs, like equipment repairs, she said. Also, mild weather means a reduction in stress on roadways — fewer freeze/thaw cycles result in less road damage.

Worcester County is also experiencing savings, as its 25 plows have yet to hit the roads. County spokeswoman Kim Moses said Worcester purchases salt from the State Highway Administration in minimal quantities. To date, the county has used no road treatment materials this season.

Moses said the Public Works departmental budget for snow includes $20,000 for overtime and $10,000 for fuel and salt costs.

“Leftover funds are either encumbered for next year or transferred to other operating accounts as needed,” she said,
adding the county has also seen savings in reduced heating and operational costs for the Roads Department.

John Tustin, director of Public Works for Worcester County, said his department has enjoyed the unusually warm winter season.

“In times of tighter budgets and in keeping with the theme of doing more with less, any help Mother Nature provides is certainly appreciated,” Tustin said.

Ocean City sets little aside for snow removal, according to Public Works Director Hal Adkins.

“In Ocean City, we only budget $12,000 for salt, and if it doesn’t snow, we don’t buy it,” Adkins said. “We really don’t
budget for man-hours, because snow removal is done during normal working hours and is covered by our standard payroll.”

Of the $36 million budgeted for Maryland State Highway Administration winter operations, about $23.5 million has been used so far. Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for SHA, said despite mild weather, western Maryland still experiences snow, especially in the mountainous areas.

“Some of the money was used for new equipment and to replenish our salt supply from last year,” Gischlar said, adding the state deployed plows for the Jan. 21 snowfall.

Gischlar said 37 percent of the SHA’s snow budget is devoted to contractors, 28 percent to labor, 27 percent to salt and 8 percent to equipment. Leftover funds will be used on SHA safety projects, like intersection improvements.

Not having to treat roadways leaves time for crews to work on other projects that may have otherwise been “wintered over,” Gischlar said. “We usually do construction when it’s still warm. When we have temperatures like (Tuesday’s), we can do paving and catch up on projects that otherwise would have had to wait till spring.”

Gardner said Salisbury employees are able to catch up on projects like pothole patching and catch basin cleaning. Lee-Brooks said Wicomico County employees work on myriad projects and normal Roads Division functions, like storm drain repair and bridge maintenance. And in Worcester County, Moses said employees work on roadside tree limb removal, drainage improvements and cross road pipe replacements.

Tom Kines, a meteorologist with Accuweather, said the mild weather pattern will continue during the next few weeks heading into late February and early March.

“(By then), the odds of snow, even during a normal winter, are way down,” Kines said. “The normal highs at the end of February are in the lower 50s, and you’ve got to have a pretty cold air mass coming in to produce snow.”

Kines said most of the middle and eastern parts of the United States are seeing minimal snow fall due to the jet stream — which guides weather across the country and separates warm air masses and cold air masses — being located unusually far north.

“So we have stayed in the mild air,” Kines said. “Any cold intrusion we’ve had has been brief and very minor.”

Information from: The Daily Times of Salisbury, Md. http://www.delmarvanow.com

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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