Strapped towns will need to make more cuts next year to pay for snow removal deficits

Plenty of people complained when meteorologists botched the forecast for the storm that fizzled on Feb. 10.


Whitman Highway Superintendent Donnie Westhaver wasn’t one of them.


“When we get less (snow) than predicted, it saves money, time and materials,” Westhaver said .


Public works officials like Westhaver are seeing their snow removal tab growing steadily this winter season with each snow storm.


Many communities have already exhausted their snow-removal and road-salting budgets with a month to go before spring arrives – and more snow predicted for later this week. It’s an annual battle.


The town of Whitman, for example, allocates $120,000 annually for snow and ice removal, but Westhaver says they’ve stayed within that budget only once in the last 20 years.


“Now, we’re at $170,000 and still climbing,” Westhaver said.


With the rising costs of labor, fuel, road salt and machinery, the price of keeping local roadways clear in winter continues to rise.


In Raynham, snow removal costs have more than tripled since the town broke its annual budget of $50,000 in December.


“We’ve spent $170,000 now,” said Highway Superintendent Roger Stolte. Last year, Raynham’s snow-removal bill totaled $274,000.


Though snow removal is one budget item for which municipalities are allowed to overspend their allocation, the difference is later subtracted from the city or town’s general fund. So why don’t they appropriate more money in the first place?


“We under-fund because we never know what we’re going to need,” Stolte said. “No one can predict – except maybe the Farmer’s Almanac – how much snow we’re going to get each year.”


After the latest storm in Easton, Department of Public Works Director Wayne Southworth said the town’s snow-removal tab reached $350,000.


The annual budget, Southworth said, is $188,000.


Costly materials and labor – rental trucks and pieces of machinery, chemicals for salting and sanding the roads, and people to operate plows – make it impossible to stay within budget constraints, he said.


“For a substantial snowstorm, Easton needs between 50 and 60 pieces of machinery,” Southworth said. “We have 150 miles of roadways to cover, and that’s impossible to do with only 20 pieces of town equipment.”


That’s why many local towns have contractors on call for when big storms hit, he said.


In East Bridgewater, town officials are finding ways to slow a still-growing $600,000 bill for snow and ice removal – the town’s annual allocation is $50,000 – according to Rob Kenn, highway and grounds superintendent.


“We plow our own sidewalks, we’ve recalibrated some of our trucks and we stick to the main roads, ignoring subdivisions,” Kenn said.


And, for the most part, local people understand, he said.


“We haven’t really had any complaints, because I think people know our priorities and how expensive this process really is,” he said.


In Stoughton, the highway department’s snow budget is about $200,000 in the red after a series of slow-moving storms that haven’t dumped a lot of sow but required continuous salting and plowing of roads over hours.


“I don’t think it has been too bad. We’ve had problems with the small, pesky storms,” which rack up overtime for department snow-plow drivers and mean premium pay for contractors, Highway Department Director John Batchelder said.


The department has 110 miles of town roads to plow with 55 snow plows, both department and contractor.


Brockton has most likely spent all the money it had budgeted for snow and ice removal this winter, John Condon, chief financial officer, said Friday.


The city budgeted $2 million this year for snow and ice removal, along with $130,000 for related overtime costs, Condon said. Last year, the city budgeted $1.65 million for snow and ice and the same amount for overtime, he said.


“We’ve been raising the budget steadily for several years now, because we’re not comfortable generating $3 to $4 million deficits in that account,” Condon said.


Condon said there is a request for tonight’s City Council meeting agenda to authorize an additional $500,000 in spending for snow and ice.


Enterprise staff writer Kyle Alspach and correspondent Allan Stein contributed to this story.