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Snow budget will be stretched this year [UPDATED]

Published 10:05am Monday, April 25, 2011 Updated 12:52pm Monday, April 25, 2011

Warm weather lovers in Fergus Falls have had little to be happy about in 2011, as snow and cold temperatures just haven’t gone away.

The late snow is also digging in to the city’s snow removal budget, and Public Works Director Anne Martens said that the budget will likely be stretched to its limit by the end of the year.

“I anticipate that we’ll be very close to being on budget or a little over budget,” Martens said.

The city’s 2011 snow removal budget is $555,000, plus a rollover of $15,400 of unused funds from last year, “which we’re going to need,” Martens added. By April 1, the city had spent about half of this year’s snow budget.

The city’s snow budget is one of a few city budgets that allow for rollover funds to be transferred into the next year’s balance. It is designed so the city can benefit from warmer winters and have a little bit of financial insulation in snowier ones.

From 2008 to 2009, there was a carryover of $32,000. From 2009 to 2010, there was a carryover of only $2,000. Martens said the city has the snow budget in about the right place, and the changes from year to year in carryover amounts result from the changing weather.

“You can’t predict the weather,” Martens said.

Snow removal cost is a complicated business, determined by more than the number of snowfalls, such as when the snow falls, how much snow there is, and the snow’s consistency snow, all play a part.

For example, the city had several heavy snowfalls on weekends in December 2009, including one that happened very close to Christmas Day, resulting in overtime pay for snowplow crews.

A similar situation happened in December last year, but with the early spring of 2010, there was less money expended at the beginning of the year.

Another example is the snowstorm that hit Fergus Falls on Dec. 30 last year. The storm that day and following days took about three weeks for the city to fully clean up.

“We have a lot of labor hours clearing that snow,” said Martens, explaining that plowing roads is only the beginning. “We have to go through and we have to clear snow from street intersections.”

Trucks also hauled snow to multiple snow dump sites around the city.

Snow moisture can be another cost-affecting factor. If a wet snow falls, cold temps can freeze it and make it dangerous for drivers.

“We could have a lot more salt and sand expenditures,” said Martens.

The city actually dodged a bullet early this year, when sand and salt prices took a big jump as snowstorms buffeted major cities around the country. Fortunately, said Martens, the city had bought its supply of salt and sand in advance.

Though this winter might seem bitter, Martens said things could definitely be worse as far as the snow budget is concerned. There was only one major snowfall in January, which put the city ahead of the curve on the snow budget until April’s snowfalls hit.

Martens guessed that when the snow finally does stop falling, the city will have spent about 60 percent of its snow budget. Having already taken care of January through April, the city will be able to allot the remaining 40 percent to the snows of November and December.

But Martens isn’t worried.

“I would say 60-40 is typical,” she said.

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