Salt supplies, budgets feel winter’s brunt

MARTINS FERRY The winter of 2012-2013 was much harsher than the one that preceded it.

More snow accumulation and more frequency of snowfall translated to more hours spent by the Ohio Department of Transportation clearing the roadways, translating to greater costs in overtime, gas and materials like salt.

ODOT reported that $79.2 million was spent on snow and ice removal last winter.

The damage bill for the winter of 2011-2012? A shade less at $43.8 million.

The state agency was not alone in feeling the fiscal effects

“Going into this winter, I had probably purchased around 600 tons of salt,” said Chuck Bennett, the service director for Martins Ferry. “We’re down to less than 100 tons.

“We probably used around 200 tons overall last year.”

Bennett noted it was not that the winter of 2012-2013 had that one or two major snowfalls that taxed the resources and manpower of the city’s workers, rather, a lot of little snow and ice storms kept the crews working.

“It was the consistency,” Bennett said. “A lot of little storms kept the roads freezing up, especially in the higher elevations in town it kept us busy.”

For municipal government entities like Martins Ferry, the cost in materials to clear the roadways and maintain safety isn’t their biggest concern. It’s manpower costs.

Someone has to be paid to climb up in the salt spreaders and plows.

“We had so much overtime,” Bennett admitted. “I even had one of my guys max out on comp time.”

Bennett noted that city workers pulling extra hours on snow-covered road maintenance have the option of choosing either overtime or comp time. But there is a limit on how much comp time employees can take and once they hit that mark, overtime must be used.

“From a budget standpoint, I’d rather they use comp time than overtime,” Bennet admitted. “They will be paid either way, but the overtime rate does cost more.”

Thankfully winter appears to be over, which in the Ohio Valley, translates into pothole season.

So while there are no more costs related to clearing snow and ice from the roadways, winter’s effects will still be felt on the budgets of local governments.

More salt and salt trucks on the roadways during cold weather always translates to more potholes to be patched once the weather breaks.

“When you have a winter like that, using all of that salt and with all the plowing done, it takes a toll on the roads,” Bennett said. “We’ll be busy in that aspect.

“We’ll likely start with Zane Highway first because is really got ate up bad. Then we’ll move to the side streets.”

Another cost in Ferry is the upkeep at the cemetery.

Since the ground has been frozen or moist for a considerable stretch of time, it’s been difficult for city crews to do any maintenance work on the grounds. A lot of areas were bad enough that equipment wasn’t able to driven on the property to perform the work.

Work has finally commenced, but much more needs to be done.

“We have already gone through about 20 tons of top soil trying to repair some areas of the grounds up there and we’ll probably need that much more again,” Bennett said. “We’re trying to get it back to looking good so we can give these grave sites the proper treatment and look they deserve.”

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