Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

February 27, 2014

Storms bury snow and ice budget

By Dustin Luca and Douglas Moser
Staff Writers

---- — The stormy winter has done a number on the town’s snow and ice removal budget.

According to recent figures, the town has spent $1.5 million, about $250,000 more than what had been allotted for the task this fiscal year.

Andover is not alone. Public works departments around the region have all blown through their snow and ice budgets as one storm after another has blasted local communities.

Every department in the area has already spent more than $1 million apiece this winter, with some public works directors fearing a rough March still to come.

The unpredictability of weather, and particularly New England weather, is built into how snow and ice budgets can operate. While state law prohibits deficit spending in every other budget, requiring communities to end the year with balanced ledgers, snow and ice removal costs can run in the red because of the public safety factor involved.

However, while a community can carry a snow deficit forward to the next fiscal year, it must be repaid out of the tax base. A large deficit also can be reduced at the end of a fiscal year by taking any money remaining in other departments’ budgets and applying it to the snow and ice deficit.

Andover has put more than 150 vehicles to work clearing streets during major storms, according to Chris Cronin, director of municipal services.

“It’s a lot,” Cronin said earlier this month. “But to keep (the town) at the level of service we have, it takes a lot of vehicles.”

The storms also have strained salt supplies across the region. Widespread heavy demand has led to orders backing up for weeks in some cases and local sheds running low.

Last week, Andover was waiting on 50 trailer loads of salt, or about 1,500 tons. The town is part of a consortium of area communities, which purchase salt together. The consortium has the option of buying salt through a secondary supplier if the primary supplier cannot deliver.

Some area public works directors say if salt starts running low, they mix in sand and sometimes magnesium. They say they can also opt to treat flat roads with straight sand.

Despite Andover’s snow and ice budget being overspent, Cronin said it won’t affect how his department responds to whatever storms to come. He said crews will continue to handle all storms and needs with the same intensity.

“Public safety comes first,” he said.