2014-03-14 / Community News

Winter of 2013-14 keeps pounding away

Officials will seek ways to offset increase in public works’ winter expenditures
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

This winter has taken a toll on the spirits of many residents and business owners who have spent storm after storm cleaning off vehicles and clearing snow and ice from their properties.

The non-stop winter weather has also impacted the town coffers.

Town Manager Tom Hall told the Town Council last week that the Department of Public Works winter operation budget is up 25 percent this year. This overexpenditure, he said, will have to be made up somewhere else in the department’s budget.

“All things considered, I am pretty happy with where we are,” Hall said.

Mike Shaw, director of Public Works, said while there are some budget items, such as road maintenance and trash collection that won’t be touched, others offer some wiggle room.

“There are certain places in the budget, the street paving line, tree work, some other line items, I may curtail slightly until the next fiscal year,” Shaw said. “Hopefully I can find some offsets in some of that stuff. My goal is to always to come at, or under budget. Once spring comes we will take a look at some of the projects we had planned and see if we could push them off a bit.”

Spring projects, he said, typically include street sweeping, tree maintenance and other spring cleanup projects.

According to a memorandum from Assistant Director Dickie Collins to Hall, as of late February, the department had spent $352,496, a $68,162 increase over this time last year.

Since the beginning of the winter, the department has responded to 24 snow events, which cost $65,596 in fuel costs, $98,460 in overtime costs and $125,189 in material costs.

Last year, to date, 21 events had cost the department $57,621 in fuel, $95,291 in material costs and $50,984 in overtime costs.

“We have had a lot of prolonged storms that required a lot of hours from the guys behind the wheel and the amount of material that had to be put out,” said Director Mike Shaw.

Last winter, he recalled, was easier on labor costs because many of the storms occurred in the morning hours early in the week, meaning overtime costs were lower.

“These storms seemed to be later in the week and later in the afternoon,” Shaw said

There have been several times this winter where the height of the storm coincided with the evening commute, which, Shaw said, only compounded matters.

Because of the harsh weather, the department had to purchase an additional 1,100 tons of salt in January and February, which increased the salt budget $54,362.

“Salt is in short supply at this time and (we) did not want to be caught with no salt available if we needed it,” Collins wrote in his memorandum to Hall. “Many towns are out of salt or close to it and are unable to purchase any more salt this season.”

That extra expense, Shaw said, will be offset by the fact that the department did not need as much as originally thought for magnesium chloride.

Shaw said the department’s work doesn’t end when the storm does. After the plowing, salting and sanding has ended, workers are still busy cleaning the machinery, maintaining the fleet of plow trucks or hauling snow to the town dump on Holmes Road.

The department has done quite a bit of snow hauling this winter, due to the cold weather, which has prevented melting.

The harsh winter weather and the bitterly cold temperature, Shaw said, have also had an impact on Scarborough roadways.

“The roads have taken it hard this year. I have not seen heaves on the road like that in years,” Shaw said.

To help the roads rebound from winter, on Monday, March 17, the department will start installing seasonal road posting signs to prevent heavy vehicle damage to roads during the spring thaw.

More information and a list of the road postings can be found on the Public Works tab on the town’s website (scarboroughmaine.org).

“We are not trying to shut down construction or keep contractors out, we are just trying to strike a balance between letting them get their work done, but not at the expense of the town roads,” Shaw said.

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