Warm, dry winter means savings for cities, towns

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Less snow and warmer temperatures are starting to add up to real savings for cities and towns, a survey of local government officials on Monday showed.

Farmington Public Works Director Denis Castonguay said milder weather has been a “tremendous help” to his department’s bottom line.

Not only have towns saved on materials, like the sand and salt needed to keep roads safe, many have saved overtime hours and vehicle fuel costs as well.

“We’ve been out there but nothing compared to past years,” Castonguay said Monday.

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Leftover sand alone will save the town more than $16,000 in 2010.

Wilton Public Works foreman John Welch said the apparent savings can just as easily disappear with bad weather next year.

“This was a good winter but next winter we might have heavy snowfall like a couple years ago,” he said.

Wilton’s savings include overtime, fuel and salt. Less plowing this year means a savings from fewer changes to the cutting edges on plows, a task normally undertaken once or twice a year. Some purchased this year will be on hand for next year, he said.

All the savings will be returned to the town’s general fund, Town Manager Rhonda Irish said.

On  Saturday, voters at the annual town meeting of the Kennebec County town of Vienna trimmed $10,000 from their winter road budget, Selectman Dodi Thompson said.

“We have a chunk of money left in overtime,” Jay highway foreman John Johnson said. “We’ve used 36 percent of our overtime budget. It doesn’t help as much on salt because the bid process requires you to buy 75 percent of your seasonal estimate anyway. “

“We budget $90,000 in this community for overtime and we’ve used $32,782.45,” Johnson said.

The highway crew also takes care of the schools, town properties and the library lots, he said.

Farther north in the Franklin County town of Rangeley, Town Manager Perry Ellsworth said he cut his proposed budget significantly for sand and salt for the 2010-11 year.

“We didn’t use the normal amount of sand and salt this year,” he said. “We have sand and salt left over.”

Normally Rangeley uses between 4,000 and 4,500 square yards of sand mixed with about 250 tons of salt.

Next year Ellsworth budgeted for 3,500 yards of sand and 250 tons of salt. Even though the town will use less sand, the salt needs to be remixed with the sand to be effective, Ellsworth said.

Last year, the sand and salt budget was $65,500 and he is budgeting just $55,000 for next year.

To the west in Oxford County, towns of the Androscoggin River valley were also noting savings on sand, salt, labor and fuel.

Mexico Town Manager John Madigan estimated savings of about $40,000 from diesel, sand, salt and overtime costs for the current year.

“We’ve gone six weeks without plowing,” he said.

However, the last time the town saved that amount of money, which was during the winter of 2005-06, the town had to place a special article on the town meeting warrant to raise an additional $35,000 to cover higher costs the following winter.

In Rumford, the greatest savings have come from overtime and diesel fuel costs, according to town garage secretary Pam Duguay.

Diesel usage has dropped to 15,530 gallons for the current year, from 21,523 gallons during the winter of 2008-09, Duguay said.

Overtime costs also dropped from $63,830 in 2008-09, to $36,364 for the current year, she said.

Salt usage has remained about the same, and sand use has dropped by about a 1,000 yards, she said.

David Phair, Dixfield’s working foreman for the public works department, said the town has used about 65 percent of its salt, 20 percent less overtime, and somewhat less of both the sand and salt accounts. Overall, he estimated the town would save between $20,000 and $25,000.

In Norway, officials said it may still be a little early to determine what type of savings they will see with a milder winter, but Town Manager David Holt said there are savings.

“It certainly has helped,”  Holt said Monday afternoon. “We’ve saved some on sand and a lot on overtime.”

Holt said normally any savings would be returned to the general fund at the end of the fiscal year on June 30, but because of large losses in state revenues, any savings from these accounts will go to help offset those reductions.

Paris Town Manager Phil Tarr said that town is seeing about $50,000 in savings, based on where they anticipated the highway budget would be at this point in the year.

Overtime expenditures diesel fuel, sand and salt costs were all down, Tarr said.

In Oxford, Town Manager Michael Chammings said costs were down by $40,000 compared to last year. Salt costs alone were down $20,000, he said. That town was also seeing reductions in overtime costs, Chammings said.

Chammings also warned that judging the highway budget by the sand pile alone might be misleading as some towns, including his, would stockpile sand when it can be purchased cheaply early in the year.

Lewiston’s Public Works Director Paul Boudreau said his city also saved on material but the duration of the few storms we had and their timing, usually over the weekend or on holidays, means the city won’t save as much in overtime costs. Boudreau said they were still calculating how much sand and salt they had saved but noted less snow to remove has meant city crews have gotten an earlier start on clearing sidewalks for spring and summer.

Boudreau said they had made good headway on the spring street and sidewalk cleanup. “The last time we got this early of a start was sometime in the 1980s,” he said.

Gary Wadsworth, the operations manager for Auburn’s Public Works Department, said the city used about half as much sand and salt as it typically does to this point in the winter. How much the city would save was still being calculated but Wadsworth said the sand pile at the public works garage was much bigger than it usually is for this time of the year.

“It’s been an unusual winter for sure,” Wadsworth said.

Staff writers M. Dirk Langeveld, Ann Bryant, Donna Perry, Leslie Dixon, Eileen Adams and Regional Editor Scott Thistle contributed to this report.

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