Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

January 31, 2014

Piles of snow result in piles of expense

Debbie Blank
The Herald-Tribune

---- — Not surprisingly, so far this winter, the city of Batesville and Franklin and Ripley counties have spent much more than usual on snow removal, with mountains of salt the greatest expense.

Batesville employees have gone through 330 tons of that white stuff. How is the supply holding up? "We are down to about 135 tons of salt, which would last approximately two or three more bad storms," estimated Tim Macyauski, director of operations for Batesville street and building departments.

"We have just ordered another 100 tons" costing $63.79 per ton, according to him.

Batesville clerk-treasurer Ron Weigel explained how a mild winter, like last year's, can financially help a more harsh season later. "We will sometimes use (money) out of the salt budget funds to increase our salt supply so we have enough on hand for the start of the next season. For the start of 2013, we spent $19,453 for salt. So far this year, we've spent $2,855."

Plowing overtime dollars have mounted up to $4,057 so far, the clerk-treasurer said. "A lot of the plowing has been done during normal work hours." Forty-one hours of overtime by wastewater treatment plant manager Randy Jobst and Macyauski are not included because they are salaried.

The director pointed out, "We have not had to work around the clock like they would have done several years ago when we got 20-24 inches at one time. The longest stretch that we have worked at any one time this year is 13 hours." Unfortunately, the 2013-14 storm events "have happened a lot on the weekends."

Weigel said, "We anticipate that there's going to be overtime for snow removal," so $10,000 (which comes from property taxes that are allocated to the state's Motor Vehicle Highway Fund) was budgeted for 2014. If that amount is exceeded, "we'd have to look at (slashing) other line items in the budget."

Dollars also have been spent on extra fuel for plowing trucks. "We are 155 gallons over for this December and January from what we used last year," according to Macyauski. At an average diesel and gas price of $2.80 per gallon, $434 above the typical amount has been spent up to this point.

Eight street department workers are able to plow. Macyauski noted, "Usually the on-call person gets called first by the police department, then, if needed, we will bring in a few at a time or all at once" if a blizzard or other dire situation occurs.

Two parks department employees now maintain most of the downtown city-owned sidewalks. "That works out a lot better for us so we can stay focused on city streets," he said.

Snow and ice removal workers keep toasty in subzero temps by "trying to limit the exposure and dressing in layers," according to the director.

He reflected, "Most storms this year have been pretty similar – 4-6 inches of snow with wind and temperatures that are in the single digits and below. The more the snow sticks around, the harder it is to plow because there is just nowhere to push it without hauling it off."

Area residents can help plowing efforts along. The director suggested, "When snowstorm events happen, try to park the automobiles off city streets as much as possible. When plowing or shoveling sidewalks, try not to put the snow back on city streets that have already been plowed and/or salted. Do not push snow onto a neighbor's property."

Citizens have to be understanding about what city workers do. "It is very difficult at times for us to keep your driveway open when you have already shoveled it open. Sorry! Our primary goal is to open the streets for safe travel."

Franklin County has spent around $74,000 on salt this season, reported Hollie Maxie, Franklin County Highway Department secretary. That equates to 1,085 tons used plus "400 tons on order, but we have not received it yet."

Compared to the 2012-13 winter, the mildest she's seen in 13 years on the job, the county has needed 5,225 extra gallons of diesel fuel in December and January, costing $16,903, to keep plowing vehicles moving.

From December 2013 through Jan. 17, Franklin County has shelled out $9,157 for 414.25 hours of plowing overtime pay.

Is there enough money and supplies on hand for future snow pushing if winter continues to be snowier than usual? Maxie replied, "Money, yes. Salt, I would say no. I really don't think we will get the 400 tons" because it is in so much demand.

"You just never know what to expect from Mother Nature. The guys have been doing the best they can do, and actually calls have been down this season. I think a lot of people have just been staying in."

Ripley County has spent $83,700 on about 1,350 tons of salt, reports highway garage superintendent Owen Heaton. He doesn't have dollar amounts yet for extra fuel and plowing overtime costs.

Heaton is worried about the salt supply if storms continue. "We probably have 350 tons of salt on hand. We mix that with cinders (before spreading on roads). That would get us through a couple of storms, maybe, if they're not too severe. We depleted our money for salt already. Thanks to the council and commissioners, we do have (more) money to buy salt."

However, its price has skyrocketed from $62 a ton to $205 a ton. "We just couldn't afford it."

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.

INDOT winter spending abnormally high The National Weather Service office in Indianapolis has recorded the second-highest snowfall total for a winter season on record through Jan. 21. The Indiana Department of Transportation's yellow plow trucks have logged nearly 4.3 million miles and deployed 265,000 tons of granular salt during this record winter through Jan. 18, said spokesperson Will Wingfield. In addition, workers already spread nearly 2.5 million gallons of salt brine on Hoosier highways. Over the past five years, the average cost of INDOT's winter operations including overtime, fuel and salt has been $33.8 million. With this winter a little more than half over, officials estimated it has invested more than $31 million as of Jan. 18. Its maintenance budget is funded primarily through vehicle registration fees and an 18-cent tax charged for every gallon of gas. Indiana fuel taxes have not increased in more than a decade. Before predicted winter weather, INDOT leaders deploy up to 2,100 drivers, mechanics, clerks and managers to work alternating 12-hour shifts, seven days per week, if needed. Each plow route takes two to three hours to complete with salt assisting in melting between passes, according to Wingfield. For up-to-the-minute road conditions and closures, drivers may visit http://indot.carsprogram.org or dial 800-261-ROAD.