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Frequent snowstorms taking a toll on Manchester's plowing budget

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 20. 2014 11:44PM
A Manchester Highway Dept plow clears snow on Lake Ave. during a 2011 storm. (BOB LaPREE/UNION LEADER FILE)

MANCHESTER — When it comes to the cost to the city of removing snow from city streets, it's not as much the depth, as it is the frequency.

Five snowstorms in a 10-day period this month drained an estimated 25 percent of Manchester's snow plowing budget for the winter of 2014, and city highway officials say the accounts are now depleted.

The official winter season still has a month remaining. But nature knows nothing of calendars and is quite adept at whipping up additional foul weather systems well after the tulips and crocuses appear.

N.H. Department of Public Works managers are faced with the potential for more storms and will have to find the money to pay to clear Manchester's more than 400 miles of road.

Bills are still being tallied for the most recent storms, but the budget took at big hit earlier in the month with multiple storms in less than a week's time.

"Three storms on the 10th, the 13th and the 15th cost $225,000," said Tim Clougherty, the deputy public works director in charge of administration. "Given the back-to-back nature of the storms, we're still accounting for all of our costs."

80 inches of snow

National Weather Service records say that central New Hampshire has received close to 80 inches of snow so far this winter — close to three feet of snow in February alone — during which there have been eight days on which an inch or more of snow has fallen.

Last year, the city had money left in its snow and ice accounts right up to the end of winter in March. In the previous year, the winter of 2012, when there were no major storms from October until mid-February, the city spent only $550,000 on snow plowing and salting.

Clougherty said that when the snow removal fund runs at a deficit, the DPW must look to other areas to meet the cost.

"It is part of the general fund, so we will be making up any shortfall with that," Clougherty said. "If we feel that our entire department general fund will be exceeded, we would have to go the Board of Mayor and Aldermen."

One of the biggest budget strains this year is the sheer number of snowstorms. There have been at least 33 days when more than trace amounts of snow have been received, and 15 on which two or more inches of snow fell, although many snowstorms begin one day and end the next.

The duration of a storm determines how much overtime, fuel and supplies, such as salt, will be consumed. But the city is hit with a minimum expense whenever there's enough snow to order the plows and sanders to hit the streets.

"It doesn't matter if it's two inches or six inches, we have to send out our fleet; we have a base cost for covering all our streets," Clougherty said. "It doesn't cost more to plow four (inches) than to plow an inch-and-a-half."

Taking a toll on equipment

Frequent storms take their toll on equipment, which may require repairs when it is needed on the streets. The Public Works Department has asked the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to allow it to keep a older truck that was scheduled to be scrapped, just in case it is needed while other equipment is being repaired.

Some cities have reported that the number of storms has drained their supply of salt and sand, but that isn't an issue in Manchester. The city uses salt, as opposed to sand or a salt/sand mix to treat roads, and Clougherty said there is no danger of running out before the snow season is over.

By that time, attention — and whatever dollars are left — will have turned to filling potholes of spring.

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