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February 24, 2014

Most towns $1M over snow budgets

Public works departments around the area have blown through their snow and ice budgets as storms have blasted the region one after another.

Every department in the area has spent more than $1 million each in their snow budgets this winter, with some public works directors fearing a rough March ahead. Most communities budget a couple hundred thousand dollars each year for snow. The unpredictability of weather, and particularly New England weather, is built into how those budgets work and allows some deficit spending, but the bills have to be paid eventually.

The storms also have strained salt supplies, with widespread heavy demand backing up orders for weeks in some cases and local sheds running low.

Lawrence has spent about $1.2 million so far this year, nearly 10 times the $150,000 the city’s public works department is budgeted annually.

“It takes us probably $100,000 to get out of the garage at the start of the season, from supplies, getting inspected, salt and sand,” Lawrence DPW Director John Isensee said. “That’s just to get prepared. Very quickly we’re in front of the city council asking to override that expenditure line.”

Methuen has spent $1.4 million so far, about seven times the $215,000 budgeted for the year. North Andover has spent about $1.2 million, compared to $750,000 budgeted for the year. And Andover has spent $1.5 million, with about $1.25 million budgeted for the year.

Once the budget is gone, the roads still need to be plowed and the salt spread, so departments generally can spend what they have to in order to make sure the roads are safe.

State law requires cities and towns to balance their budgets every year and deficits are forbidden — except for snow and ice. A community can carry a snow deficit forward to the next year, but it must be repaid out of the tax base.

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