February 26. 2013 9:28PM

Winter storms taking a toll on NH snow budgets

New Hampshire Union Leader
Union Leader Correspondent

Mechanic Matt Ciechon cuts bolts holding the edge on a 12-foot plow blade while Bill Greenwood stands by to pound the bolts out with a hammer. The plow was one of eight they were repairing at Manchester's fleet maintenance garage Tuesday in preparation for Wednesday's storm. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

The Hudson Department of Public Works plow truck fleet loads up with sand in preparation for today's storm. COURTESY 

For communities trying to stretch snow removal dollars to last the winter, February can be the cruelest month.

The 41.4 inches of snow the National Weather Service has recorded so far at Concord Airport make it the third-snowiest February on record. The record was set in 1893 with 59 inches.

With a storm set to move in this morning, public works directors are eyeing their snow removal budgets and hoping they will stretch to last the season.

"I still think we will be OK. But (any storms) beyond that ... we will have to keep our eye on," Manchester Public Works Director Kevin A. Sheppard said.

His department has already spent about 70 percent of its total $1.2 million snow removal budget - excluding last weekend's snow storm, for which final figures are not available, Sheppard said.

Manchester is forecast to get anywhere from rain to six inches of snow by the time the storm moves out Thursday, National Weather Service meteorologist Margaret Curtis said.

"It will probably be a pretty wet storm similar to the storm we just had (last weekend). Whenever we get close to freezing, the snow tends to be real damp snow. Snowman snow, that's what I call it," Curtis said.

Concord: Going over

The six to eight inches of snow Concord is expecting today could put it over its more than $1.2 million snow removal budget.

"I think we will probably go over," General Services Manager Chip Chesley said.

He expects his department already exceeded its $262,000 overtime budget given this month's storms hit on weekends, which means his staff was paid almost exclusively in overtime. The department historically has shifted funds from other line items - such as street paving - should it exceed its snow removal budget, Chesley said.

Milford: On track

In Milford, where an estimated 37.7 inches of snow fell so far this year, the town is on track to meet its snow removal expenses, Town Administrator Guy Scaife said.

"I don't think we should assume March will be as bad as February. We already are having 40-degree days, so it is melting quite quickly," Scaife said.

Hudson: It's close

In Hudson, there is only $25,000 left in the $150,000 overtime budget, and the $150,000 budget for salt is expended, DPW Road Agent Ken Burns said.

"Yeah, it's not good, but we'll be OK if the winter kind of lets up now. But if it keeps going on for another month, we will be in trouble," Burns said.

If the DPW is forced to go over budget, the Board of Selectmen would have to approve more funds for the department's 23 plows to cover the 400 miles of roads.

"You'd hate to have to go back to the well for more money," Burns said.

Nashua: Looking good

With a budget for snow removal totaling $1.27 million and over 70 pieces of owned and contracted equipment, the Nashua Department of Public Works has 700 lane miles of road stretched out over 1400 streets.

While currently on budget, DPW Director Lisa Fauteux explained that a bad storm like winter storm Nemo (Feb. 8-9) has the potential to cost the city well over $100,000.

"We are still very much on budget, this has not been a winter like the one we had a couple of years ago; the budget still looks good," Fauteux said.

In case the city ends up running out of funds for snow removal, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said the city has a snow trust fund set up that it can dip into.

Merrimack: On target

While Nemo cost Merrimack just over $80,000 in snow removal and cleanup, Merrimack Department of Public Works Director Rick Seymour said the town remains on target for its snow removal budget.

"Knock on wood, at last estimate we were about 75 percent expended on overtime, which is pretty good shape for this time of year. For our material we have just over a quarter left in the salt shed," Seymour said.

With 24 snow removal vehicles and 20 plow routes, Seymour said the town doesn't need to contract extra help for the roughly 200 center lane miles it has to cover.

Seymour said that the DPW has $170,000 for materials and over $70,000 for overtime budgeted for this winter; he expects to see a slight decrease in funding for both in next year's budget.

"We try to be more efficient with the operation, and we plan to use less salt. We do a good job on the roads; it's a dedicated group," he said.