By Alex Lippa
---- — Winter may be over, but some Southern Hampshire officials are nervous about skyrocketing snow removal costs.
But thanks to some help from the federal government, some local towns are not as concerned about going over budget.
Gov. Maggie Hassan announced this week the state will receive reimbursement for 75 percent of the expenses incurred during the blizzard Feb. 8-10 that dumped two feet of snow. Statewide, the cost of responding to the storm totaled nearly $5 million, she said.
“February’s storm put a significant strain on our local communities, and the ongoing winter weather has pushed snow removal budgets to the limit,” Hassan said in a statement. “The major declaration will allow communities to apply for critical funds that will help provide relief and replenish resources.”
The reimbursement money will be an asset to towns that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on snow removal in the last few months.
“I’m surprised it qualified,” Derry public works director Mike Fowler said of the blizzard. “We didn’t go into the winter expecting this, but it’s a big help.”
Fowler said the town could recoup about $100,000. Derry has a fiscal year budget that runs from July 1 to June 30.
The town budgeted $548,000 for snow removal, but has spent $590,000, he said.
The excess spending has forced Fowler to juggle other parts of the budget.
“We have a bottom line for highway costs, the transfer station and vehicle maintenance,” Fowler said. “The ability to move some of that money is available to cover overages in other items.”
While Derry operates on a fiscal year budget, Plaistow has a calendar year budget.
“On average in our calendar year, we spend $150,000 on snow removal,” Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald said. “We’re over that already in just three months.”
Fitzgerald said the town has spent $160,000 since January. The town should receive about $37,500 for the blizzard but it still needs to account for potential snow in November and December.
“We’ll tighten up the belt as we’ve done and do our best to bring in a balanced budget,” Fitzgerald said. “We will have to work with the department heads and really kind of take a hard look at many of the things we had hoped to accomplish.”
Communities aren’t the only ones hit by overages in their snow removal budgets. Bill Boynton of the state Department of Transportation estimated his department will exceed its snow removal budget by $6 million.
“We’ve maxed out overtime and are able to move certain funds internally, but at some point we may have to go back to the Legislature for additional appropriation,” Boynton said.
The federal assistance is being distributed to communities through the New Hampshire Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Not every community is having as tough a time.
“It’s been a typical winter for us,” Salem finance director Jane Savastano said.
Savastano said the town had spent $407,000 prior to the storm earlier this week. The town would be eligible to receive nearly $150,000 for the blizzard, she said. If the town exceeds the $750,000 budget by the end of the calendar year, contingency plans are already in place.
“We have reserve funds but we haven’t had to tap into that in several years,” she said.
Road agents said there are numerous reasons why so much money is being spent on snow removal this year.
“All of these storms have been for a long duration,” Newton road agent Michael Pivero said. “It’s taxing because you get equipment out there for longer than you’d like. Sometimes, you wish it just all happened during the night in one large swoop.”
Overtime hours can add up as well.
“A lot of these workers are putting in 12 to 20 hours a week during the storm,” Fowler said. “I think most drivers would be pleased if this was the last storm of the winter.”
But more snow could be on the horizon. Ryan Breton of Atkinsonweather.com said earlier this week it’s likely more snow will fall before warm weather arrives.