EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

January 17, 2008

Winter budgets buried by heavy snowfall

Salem was over budget for snow removal last month, while Windham came in just under the wire.

Pelham spent an extra $20,000 on salt in 2007, and Londonderry already has blown through 97 percent of its overtime budget for snowplowing this winter.

"December was, ah, pretty snowy," said Art Lester, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine.

And as the winter of 2007-08 shapes up to be a messy one, local public works departments are footing much-bigger-than-usual bills.

In Concord - the closest New Hampshire city where long-term snowfall records are kept - last month was the snowiest December on record, according to Lester. The second snowiest was December 1891, he said.

Fifty-four inches of snow have fallen in the region already this year; last year, only 1.8 inches of snow had fallen by this time, Lester said.

"You can't tell what's going to happen the rest of the winter," he said. "We don't even try."

But some officials are worried that a snowier-than-usual season could affect town coffers.

Local communities divide up their budgets for snow removal in different ways. Salem, Pelham and Windham, for instance, divide the snow budget by calendar year.

In Salem, the Public Works Department ended 2007 having overspent its $578,934 budget by about $60,000, said Jane Savastano, the town's finance director.

Windham ended 2007 in the black, but barely. That town budgeted $168,000 for winter maintenance and spent $165,000.

Pelham, which doesn't have a single budget line for snow removal, spent $20,000 more than the $61,443 it had set aside for road salt, according to Town Administrator Tom Gaydos.

"This year we got snow. Last year we got ice. They're killers, either way," he said.

While Windham and Pelham are planning to budget about the same amount for 2008, Salem has decided to slash its budget to $400,000 for 2008.

Salem officials plan to use a $230,000 emergency trust fund if snow removal this year costs more than budgeted, Savastano said.

Although, she said, "The hope would be not to tap the whole thing."

Among the towns that budget by fiscal year, like Derry and Londonderry, huge portions of this winter's budget have already been eaten up.

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