Officials: Winter spending still on track after storm

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A massive snowbank in the Severance Green parking lot in Colchester stood tall on Monday, even as the calendar heralded the arrival of spring. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

A massive snowbank in the Severance Green parking lot in Colchester stood tall on Monday, even as the calendar heralded the arrival of spring. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Residents may have stifled a laugh on Monday as the calendar heralded the arrival of spring. Massive white snow banks piled up across town begged to differ, it seemed.

Before last week’s storm, public works director Bryan Osborne said the town’s snow and ice removal program had spent just below 80 percent of their allocated budget, coming in around $55,500 under budget as the winter season appeared to be winding down.

As March moved in, Colchester had gotten just 60 inches of fluffy snow, Osborne said — well below the annual average of 81 inches.

That number changed drastically by the end of last week, but Osborne said the record-setting blizzard still proved financially manageable.

“While long and exhausting, we will eventually see that this was not a particularly expensive storm,” Osborne wrote in an email. “The biggest misperception about the cost of snow removal is equating costs to how much snow is received. Actually, there is very little nexus.”

Examining the number of “actionable” winter events, when they occur and the type of precipitation they drop can paint a much more accurate cost picture, Osborne said.

For example, a 16-hour ice storm that drops ¾-inch of ice costs more than an eight-hour snowstorm that drops 18 inches of powder, he said.

The snow dropped by Super Storm Stella was “very light, fluffy and easy to move,” Osborne said, meaning the town plows keep fuel consumption relatively low.

The department forecasted the cost of fuel more than a year ago and found the actual cost 30 to 40 percent cheaper than anticipated by spending time. Just before the blizzard, the town was more than $43,000 under the fuel budget, Osborne said.

It was the extended duration of the storm, however, that made staffing a bit more troublesome, Osborne said. Employees generally save the bulk of their effort for the post-snowfall push. This time, it became necessary to try and deploy around the clock.

“Unfortunately we are not staffed for this type of operation,” Osborne wrote. “As a result, we ran very small patrol crews throughout the evening hours, reserving the majority of our resources for the daytime hours when there is more activity on the transportation system.”

An emphasis on daytime work contained overtime costs, he added. Before the storm, the department was nearly $27,000 under budget in that category.

The cost of materials like salt and sand stayed constant through the snowy onslaught, as both products were drawn from an already purchased inventory. Combined, those substances have tipped the scale nearly $15,000 over budget thus far.

Significant amounts of ice and freezing rain are to blame for the overage, Osborne said, noting the town has experienced 10 more “actionable events” than the annual average.

The department ran out of sand last month and requested an emergency appropriation to replenish the supply. Now, Osborne said about $7,500 remains in stock and might be used to offset budget costs in the future.

The unused sand will keep in an enclosed facility as winter winds down, Osborne said, ready to hit the ground running when the first flakes fall next year.