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Snowfall eats into local and state budgets

Sitting across from the Hopkinton Board of Selectmen on Monday night, the highway superintendent reported the financial reality. Less than two months into the town’s year, he’s already over budget on salt, sand and overtime. At the thought of facing back-to-back storms like last week, “20 tons (of salt) doesn’t go very far,” John Thayer told them.

To get through the rest of the year, which includes any remaining storms this winter and the first few of the next, the Hopkinton board will propose adding roughly $40,000 to the budget at Town Meeting on March 15. Residents will need to first consider and approve the amendment offered by one of the board members from the floor, before voting on the full 2014 budget.

It’s a pinch being felt across New Hampshire. The Department of Transportation has already gotten approval from the House to transfer $2.25 million from the state highway fund to the winter maintenance budget, DOT spokesman Bill Boynton said yesterday. That bumps its annual budget to more than $44 million, he said, and it still may not be enough to last the winter. As of Thursday, the department had spent $38.8 million. That translates to 87.7 percent of the budget, and according to the department’s measurements, it’s only through 68 percent of the winter.

“We don’t have much of a cushion right now,” Boynton said.

Concord has budgeted roughly $1.2 million for this year’s snow and ice control, but the city is going to come in close, said General Services Department Director Chip Chesley. “In the past we have needed to appropriate additional dollars.”

In Hopkinton, the exact sum of the highway department infusion will be finalized at a board of selectmen meeting on March 10. The money would cover costs including salt, sand and overtime expenses for the highway crew.

Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 24, the town has spent almost $63,000 on salt, blowing through the budgeted $50,000. In the first eight weeks of the year, said Town Administrator Neal Cass, that sum is approaching the annual salt spending total from 2012, $76,200, and is almost even with the $63,600 spent in 2011.

It’s the same case for sand, which is already $7,000 over budget and has surpassed the 2011 total, at $6,300.

In nearby Pembroke, over the past two months public works has spent $5,000 more in diesel fuel than in the same time period last year. “It’s been a busy two months,” said the town’s public works Director James Boisvert.

The DOT, responsible for approximately 4,600 miles of state-maintained highway, has used 164,387 tons of salt over the winter period up until the week ending Feb 20. That is roughly 37,000 tons more than the 25-year average at that point, usually about 127,000 tons, and almost 50,000 tons more than last year’s tally of 115,869 tons.

The Hopkinton highway crew can use between 10 and 20 tons of salt per storm, depending on the conditions, to tackle the town’s roughly 50 miles of paved roads, Thayer said. It comes out to some 400 to 500 pounds of salt per mile.

“These storms have been expensive storms,” Cass said. Whether there’s one inch or a foot of snow, he said, you use the same amount of salt. When the storms are stretched out, the resources add up.

“We might only get 6 inches of snow, but it’s been 12 to 24 hours coming on a weekend in the overnight versus a big storm that may come mid-week during the day,” Cass said.

The budget figure is derived from analyzing historical expenditures. The numbers are lower this year, Cass said, because the last few winters have been relatively mild.

“When weather throws you a wild card, you end up doing what we’re doing now, which is go back and revise the budget,” said selectmen Chairman Jim O’Brien.

If the budget amendment is not approved, town officials will have to look within the existing budget to find the money, O’Brien said. That will be hard, he said, because this year’s budget is lean.

In the meantime, the town decided to carry out winter operations as usual. A delivery of salt arrived this week, just in time for forecasts that show the possibility of snow early next week.

(“Monitor” staff writer Megan Doyle contributed to this report. Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)

Legacy Comments2

darn, I thought of a better headline after I hit the send button on my first comment..."Another NH select board approves fantasy winter budget"

I believe its time we change this never ending headline from "winter eating up the budget" to "Select boards across the state realize they reside in NH" It snows in NH. It always has. Sometimes it snows quite a bit. Try properly budgeting for it.

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