Snow storms strain town budgets
By Scott Appleton - Staff Writer
Region - posted Tue., Feb. 8, 2011
This winter weather has been a severe drain on state budgets, and is trickling down to the town level, as well. While last year northeast Connecticut enjoyed a relatively mild winter, this year has brought what seems like storm upon storm; snow, ice, rain, and more snow.
With the economy being as rough as it is, towns have been looking to cut their budgets wherever they can, but the snow storms are making that very difficult.
Barbara Crouch is the finance director for the town of Griswold. She has been at this post since September 2009 and she said that, while the budget is not in danger yet, it has been stretched almost to its max in a few areas, in relation to clearing the streets of all this snow and slush.
“This is my second winter as finance director,” she said. “Last year was much better. We spent about 90 percent of our budget, and that included the flooding event. I remember we all stood on the bridge and watched the National Guard come in.”
When asked about how Griswold’s snow budget is faring this year, Crouch said, “We actually have two snow budgets. When needed, we can use the general fund and a grant from the state for municipal road repair.”
The greatest drain on the budget has been overtime for snow plow drivers. Crouch said the town has spent 90 percent of its overtime budget, and the winter is barely halfway finished. The budgeted money for snow removal includes sand, salt and the plows.
“As a parent, I want the snow to come at night or on the weekend,” she said. “But as the finance director, I want it to fall between 7 [a.m.] and 6 [p.m.], Monday through Friday, to avoid paying overtime. Just for diesel, we got a bill for $11,000 last week.”
The gas mileage on town trucks is around 10 to 12 miles per gallon, without the plow. Throw on the plow, and that fuel efficiency drops to between 6 and 8 miles per gallon. These fuel costs are expected. What Crouch didn’t anticipate is that the trucks don’t stop running during storms. The drivers may work 16 hours or more, but when they leave the truck, another driver takes their place.
“But I think, personally, the drivers have done an incredible job this winter,” Crouch said. “I can’t imagine doing their job with the snow events we have had so far.”
The state of Connecticut is responsible for several routes through town. These routes include 201, 169, 138, and 12. But Crouch said the state will not remove snow from the sides of bridges or roads. During a storm, the state plows keep one and a half lanes open.
This year, the state has hired private contractors to assist their 632 state trucks in plowing and clearing the roadways.
Crouch asked that people be made aware that if they don’t have to drive in a storm, it is helpful if they stay off the roads. It makes the plowing crews’ jobs safer and more effective.
Next door to Griswold, the town of Lisbon seems to be having no trouble with its budget, so far. First Selectman Tom Sparkman said that the town budget is very comfortable right now. He had not yet seen documentation as to what percentage of the budget snow removal has used, but he said the budget is well-funded and expects no issues.
All across the state, people have been getting up on their roofs to clear snow. Even as the snow has begun to melt, another snowfall always seems to be on the horizon.
Around Jewett City, there is about 2 feet of snow left, while some areas in Norwich still have around 18 inches. Under this weight, a lot of old buildings are sagging. Some historic structures are bending under the weight of the snow accumulated on their roofs. Last Monday, crews went to the Norwichtown Mall with shovels in hand. Foot by foot, they cleared the flat rooftop of the Stop & Shop there.
Across the state, schools have been closed since last week, as crews work to clear the large, flat rooftops of all of the ice and snow that has accumulated. Structural engineers have been called in to evaluate many buildings that are sagging or buckling under the weight.
Towns are struggling to find places to dump the snow. Years ago, the towns dumped the snow in the rivers, but the sand, salt and whatever else mixes with the snow has been proven to harm natural habitats, so that practice has stopped. Snow mountains have formed in the parking lots of Lisbon Landing and the Norwichtown Mall, as well as many other places. If more storms come, it may be difficult to find room for all of the snow, especially in the more congested downtown Jewett City and Norwich areas.