Account Transfers Means Winter Maintenance Budgets Back In The Black

Snow and ice have been repeatedly blanketing Newtown since late fall, pushing the Public Works Department’s winter maintenance budgets into the red in recent weeks. But a transfer of $116,106 that is expected to be approved by the Legislative Council February 19 will put those well-tapped budget lines back in the black according to Public Works Director Fred Hurley.

The transfers have already been approved by the Boards of Selectmen and Finance, but they also require endorsement from the council because the money is originating from the town’s contingency fund, Finance Director Robert Tait told The Newtown Bee.

The transfers break down to $27,420 for overtime; $2,098 for Social Security contributions tied to overtime payments; $22,064 for sand; and $64,524 for road salt.

At the state level, Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, told the Associated Press Wednesday that the agency has ‘‘eaten through’’ all $30 million in 11 storms this season. He says the storm moving north Thursday will be the 12th to hit Connecticut.

Mr Everhart says state transportation officials will also move money from other accounts to pay for snow and ice removal. He says 632 trucks are at the ready and more than 200 private contractor trucks are on call.

Mr Hurley said that Newtown is already in a better position than a number of neighboring communities in terms of its preparation for future winter storms including the latest system, dubbed “Pax.”

“We are not subject to the shortages of salt and the price increases many towns are seeing as they go back for added winter salt and sand supplies, because we lock in our pricing early,” Mr Hurley said. “And we reserve twice as much salt as we initially buy at the beginning of the season.”

Newtown has dispensed virtually all of the 4,000 tons of salt purchased last summer, and it is now digging into some of the added 4,000 pounds it has reserved for winters like the community is experiencing this season. New deliveries of sand and salt began rolling into town Tuesday, with more expected Wednesday and even during the storm Thursday as long as drivers can get the materials to the Public Works facility.

That is where crews mix the environmentally friendly “green and brown” treated salt with sand, depending on the type of precipitation blanketing the town, Mr Hurley said. The more snow, the more sand — while a significant ice event may require a heavier mix of salt to aid in melting the hazardous coatings on town roads.

The public works chief said Newtown’s main supply terminal in New Haven notified his office Wednesday that it has closed distribution of sand and salt supplies to private contractors, reserving all remaining supplies for municipalities and their contractors.

He is also happy that a flurry of repairs and upgrading of heavy equipment and vehicles is paying off.

“We invested a lot of money last year on maintenance and refurbishing of equipment and it is all holding up well, knock on wood,” Mr Hurley said. “We had a couple of minor breakdowns, but we were able to fix them relatively quickly.”

Residents should not assume that Highway Department repair crews are sitting idly by waiting for the next breakdown, however. The public works director said that repair personnel have been busy filling in driving plows, particularly to supplement crews when members are out sick.

That has helped keep overtime costs somewhat in check.

“Our overtime is not completely out of control,” he said, adding that it has just nudged above the five-year running average for his department, despite the increased frequency of storms this season.

He said extraneous labor costs are dependent on when storms hit, while material costs are driven by the frequency of storms.

“It’s very hard on smaller towns like ours because whether you get an inch or two, or eight to 12 inches, you still have to burn through a lot of material even when you don’t get a lot of snow,” he said.

Mr Hurley is looking optimistically to weather models that predict a warming trend beginning by the end of February that he hopes will bring temperatures into the 40s and rain that will help melt the piles of snow that have built up.

Mr Tait said he is hearing that material shortages and price increases are occurring in the Northeast because of the proliferation of winter storms bringing the infrequent occurrences of snow and ice to Southern states, which are putting increased pressure on sand and salt suppliers.

He also said that the contingency fund is specifically designed for situations like Newtown is facing, when it exhausts its supplies of materials and manpower because of unusually high incidents of winter storms.

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