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January 17, 2012

 

Weak winter lightens DPW’s load

Crews stay busy with other tasks as departments save some money

DPWBob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland Department of Public Works employee Gerrod Darling cuts limbs from a bucket truck Thursday afternoon as Jerred Peck and Brian Hall drag tree branches to a grinder along Mildred Avenue. Because of the lack of snow this winter, workers are doing tasks normally done in the spring.

By MATTHEW NOJIRI
Staff Reporter
mnojiri@cortlandstandardnews.net

After a slow start, local highway officials say they hope to come in under budget for snow and ice removal this year but that it’s too early to declare this a light winter.
For local municipalities, snow plowing is the toughest area to budget because they are at the mercy of the weather.
“It’s difficult to predict what Mother Nature is going to give us,” said Don Chambers, superintendent of the Cortland County Highway Department.
Thus far, this has been a light winter for local highway departments.
Central New York has had just 17 inches of snowfall since November, according to reports from the Northeast Regional Climate Center and the National Weather Service.
Cortland had 7 inches of snow in December 2011, down from 32 inches in December 2010.
Last year, the city had 21 snowstorms that required plowing, said Chris Bistocchi, superintendent for the Department of Public Works. Friday’s snowstorm marked the first big storm of the winter.
Bistocchi said it’s been slow thus far but that the season is just beginning.
“We’re definitely ahead of the game,” he said.
Bistocchi said the lack of snow has meant limited overtime, salt and fuel costs thus far.
In November, the city transferred $18,650 to the DPW to cover snow costs through the end of the year. Due to the lack of snow, the DPW did not need that money and it was set aside for future snow costs in a reserve fund.
The city has budgeted just under $400,000 for snow and ice removal for 2012.
Bistocchi said the city DPW has been trimming trees and doing other maintenance work typically reserved for the spring in the absence of snow.
He is reluctant to project any savings due to a light winter until after the season is over. He has seen blizzards in May during his nine years on the job.
“I’m a superstitious person,” Bistocchi said. “I’m not going to say we’ll come in ahead of budget until after the season is over.”
Chambers said county workers have also been handling warm-weather tasks in the absence of snow.
He cited the repair of the Cortland County Courthouse steps as an example.
The county had $150,000 left over in its salt budget due to a lack of snow at the end of the 2011, Chambers said.
The county is still figuring out what to do with that money, he said.
The savings that come with no snow are balanced by the loss of revenue the county receives for plowing state routes, Chambers said.
The county is paid for the time and material it puts into state routes.
“It’s hard to say what the net impact will be,” Chambers said. “March and April can be tough months. We’ve had some pretty big blizzards in March.”
John Morse, the Virgil highway superintendent, said the town saved about $10,000 on fuel costs in December due to lack of snow.
He said the town’s highway workers have been doing maintenance work on town vehicles in the absence of roads to plow.
“Last weekend was the first big weekend we’ve had,” Morse said. “It has saved us on salt and fuel mainly.”

 

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