EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 17, 2013

N.H. snow removal budgets dwindling

Plowing, removal cost towns plenty

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — Last weekend’s blizzard not only took a toll on roads, plow drivers and people’s patience, but it took a toll on town snow removal budgets, too.

Southern New Hampshire towns found spent tens of thousands of dollars on salt, sand and plowing after the storm dumped up to 2 feet of snow in some communities.

For towns such as Plaistow and Pelham, the money spent represented a huge percentage of the cash they allocate each year for snow removal.

Town officials are concerned, but not worried they won’t have enough money budgeted to get through the winter.

“We spent as much on that one storm, as we spent for the entire year last year,” Plaistow Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald said. “When it rains, it pours. When it snows, it falls.”

Plaistow spent $53,000 last weekend, Fitzgerald said. That’s more than one-third of what is spent in an average winter, he said. Roughly $10,000 already had been expended since Jan. 1, he said.

Some town officials said if more money is needed, it will be found within the budget or a special reserve account for that purpose.

In Pelham and other towns, that just means there will be less money spent next summer on road maintenance, especially paving, Town Administrator Tom Gaydos said.

Budgeting for annual snow removal is an inexact science, Atkinson Town Administrator William Innes said

“I think there’s always a concern,” he said. “You try to budget for what you have seen historically, but it’s always a gamble.”

In Pelham, that means budgeting more than $200,000 a year, Gaydos said. But the town spent $110,000 on last weekend’s storm, including $30,000 alone when snow and freezing rain arrived Monday, he said.

Fitzgerald agreed planning budgets can be tricky when weather has to be taken into account.

“We’re always worrying about Mother Nature, given the challenges we have,” he said.

In Derry, Public Works Director Michael Fowler said the town already has spent about 75 percent of its $547,000 snow removal budget for the year, including more than $100,000 on last weekend’s storm.

Unlike most other area towns, Derry’s budget cycle begins July 1 instead of Jan. 1.

Windham Town Manager David Sullivan said that town has spent about 40 percent of the $160,000 allocated for snow removal this year. The average for this time of year is 25 percent, he said.

“That storm cost us about $40,000,” he said. “But I’m not in a panic mode at this point. We are not overly concerned.”

If more money is needed, it will be found within the budget, Sullivan said.

“We would just have less paving jobs (this summer),” he said.

In Salem, Town Manager Keith Hickey surprised selectmen Monday night when he told them the town had spent $180,000 on the storm as of Sunday night. An additional $30,000 was spent the following day, Hickey said Thursday.

Hickey, who said the town usually spends nearly $1 million on snow removal annually, said he’s not concerned. But he did say it’s important that voters in March approve $750,000 proposed for snow removal this year. An additional $400,000 is available in a reserve fund, he said.

“I think we are in good shape if the funding is approved by voters,” he said.