The harsh winter – it’s over, right? – played havoc on many things, but municipal highway departments took a beating.
By late March, the Allen County Highway Department had already spent more than $1 million in overtime and supplies, including:
•$300,000 for fuel;
•$463,692 for salt;
•$137,770 for de-icing materials and sand;
•$160,263 for overtime.
“I like to call this the Bruce Willis Winter – it died hard,” Allen County Highway Director Bill Hartman said.
The long winter has strained department finances and caused Hartman to request more money from the County Council, he said.
Hartman isn’t alone. Across northeast Indiana, it was the same story with counties of all sizes. The heavy snowfall and subzero temperatures were to blame for much greater needs in supplies, manpower, fuel, contractors, wreckers and even mailboxes. To top it off, the costs from one of the snowiest and coldest winters on record are still to be factored in as the damage wreaked on local roads and highways becomes more apparent in the next few weeks.
The department will request $527,731 to cover part of the unexpected overtime, salt and fuel costs. Included in that total is the purchase of 17 new breakaway plows costing $132,600.
“The breakaway plows collapse (instead of break) when encountering a manhole, curb or other elevated surfaces,” highway department controller Kim Yagodinski said. “In the long run, we hope to save money since there will be less maintenance costs with the new plows,” she said.
In 2013, the highway department spent $493,343 for fuel. It has spent nearly $300,000 already this year, Yagodinski said.
Fuel prices were actually lower this year than last, but snowplow drivers often had to make several passes to clear dense, heavy snow from the same stretch of road, she said. The county clears 3,000 miles of roads, using drivers for 32 plows for two shifts during a heavy snow.
Overtime, as of March 21, was at $160,263, compared with $54,000 at the same time last year and $77,406 for all of 2013, Yagodinski said.
“We don’t plan to spend that much more on overtime, providing there are no big weather events like flooding, windstorms or an early winter,” she said.
The department saved $26,000 by offering drivers comp time instead of overtime pay, she said.
The department has ordered 1,200 tons of salt at a cost of $81,250 to restock depleted supplies, Yagodinski said.
In addition, the county estimated $60 to replace mailboxes but spent $621 replacing mailboxes that were accidentally knocked down by county plows. Although it budgeted about $600 for wrecker services to pull plows out of the snow, it spent 10 times that amount, she said.
The city of Fort Wayne was also hit hard, with overtime approaching half a million dollars by the end of March, Public Works spokesman Frank Suarez said last week.
Street department trucks had driven 362,739 miles, up from 172,712 last year and fuel consumption more than doubled to 93,075 gallons at a cost of $318,501, Suarez said.
Other estimated expenses included:
•De-icing materials – $1.3 million, compared with $600,000 last year;
•Drivers’ and dispatchers’ overtime – $490,750;
•Garage staff overtime – $47,500;
•Contracted plow drivers – $166,750;
•Replacement of 698 snow truck blades – $41,880, about five times the amount spent last year.
To the north
Steuben County was hit hard by winter storms, often continuing to issue alerts and warnings when other counties had downgraded to advisories.
Extra expenses so far have totaled about $200,000, county highway Superintendent Ken Penick said.
He’s not sure about the effect on next year’s budget planning.
“We never know what Mother Nature will deal us,” he said.
The department has 25 employees and 23 snow vehicles, including plows.
“We had to hire a couple more people,” Penick said.
Many of the county roads had to be plowed and replowed a short time later, adding to manpower and overtime costs, he said.
In Noble County, highway Superintendent Mark Goodrich estimates that the blustery weather cost his department $200,000 more than last winter.
“We doubled in overtime pay,” Goodrich said. His department had planned to spend $60,000 for overtime and was over that amount by $37,000 by April 1, he said.
He approached the County Council for an additional $100,000 to cover the overtime and the costs of hiring more contractors to help with snow removal.
“And we’re down another $100,000 between mechanical breakdowns and repairs and fuel,” Goodrich said.
Last year, county officials spent $27,000 on equipment repairs; this year, they’ve already spent $59,000, he said.
To the south
The Adams County Highway Department used half of its annual $200,000 fuel budget in the first quarter of the year, highway Superintendent Mark Mitchell said.
The county uses 16 drivers to clear 700 miles of roads.
Mitchell had planned on $2,000 worth of wrecker services but instead shelled out $7,500.
But Mitchell said he won’t budget differently next year. “Hopefully, this was a once-in-20-year-event,” he said.
Mitchell, who has been with the department for 37 years, said he’s experienced only four or five winters as bad as the last one.
“This is the winter that just keeps on giving,” he said.
In neighboring Wells County, highway department Superintendent Ed Herman had built up a reserve using the state’s gasoline tax distributions. The reserve was enough to cover the additional winter expenses – somewhere between $75,000 and $100,000, he said.
His biggest hindrance in fighting the snowy and icy weather was finding manpower. “As employees have quit or retired, we were not allowed to replace them,” Herman said.
That made it tough to man 16 snowplows and clean 714 miles of road, he said.
The county also had to spend $20,000 to replace grader blades and snowplow shoes, $15,500 more than it would normally spend.
“That was certainly unusual,” said Herman, a 34-year veteran of the highway department. “This was the longest winter I’ve ever seen.”