Marysville News

Winter weather puts whammy on city

City officials say budget cushion can absorb extra expenses

By

The numbers say it all: 2,769 tons of salt plus 1,272 overtime hours equals one tough winter in Marysville.

Joe Tracey, superintendent of streets, said the average salt used per season for the last five years was 1,375 tons -- until now.

"Like everybody else, our numbers are staggering," Tracey said.

Tracey said his department also used 334 tons of grit and sand starting in late January to supplement and cut back on salt usage.

Director of Public Service Mike Andrako said per the city's state salt contract, it can order as little as 80 percent or as much as 120 percent of the yearly usage estimate, which is more than 1,300 tons. The city salt barn has a 6,000-ton storage capacity.

The last few winters have been fairly mild, leaving a surplus of salt in storage. But Tracey said this year's storms have put a dent in the supply.

"I think if you have winters that are the same every year, you get kind of lax and just use salt all the time," Tracey said.

But tough winters such as this one remind him it is possible to cut back on the salt and use grit in some areas, such as U.S. Route 33.

One of the snowiest winters the region has seen in years also has taken a toll on overtime.

The 1,272 hours came at a cost of $42,807. Last year, the city used 399 overtime hours, totaling $12,561.32.

Despite the rough season, snowplow drivers haven't had to be out past one shift more than a couple of times, Tracey said.

"We had one event that it snowed for 31 hours," he said. On Dec. 5, the city spent 498 man-hours combating the snow.

Tracey said the city has 27 employees who can plow the streets. Thirteen are in the storm, street and sanitation department; the rest come from the water, wastewater and parks departments.

"We've got the people to rotate them in and out and keep them fresh -- and the guys take a lot of pride in their work, too," Tracey said.

The city breaks the street-clearing process down into seven routes, including the portion of Route 33 that's within city limits. One driver is assigned to each route except the freeway, which has three drivers assigned.

"We'll let the guys go out for 16 hours, but safety is always first. Guys understand to call me if they get tired and we'll get them out of here," Tracey said.

As of Friday, March 7, the National Weather Service in Wilmington was calling for mostly mild days and chilly nights for most of this week, with only a few chances for scattered snow showers. But March is notorious for unpredictable weather and snow late into the month.

In the 2006-07 winter season, Tracey said, the city had crews out clearing streets on about 60 different occasions.

"We're only at about 50 so far, but we will surpass it," he said.

Tracey said there's no surefire way to prepare for a long, hard winter -- unless he listens to his mother, who uses the Farmer's Almanac as her guide.

"I tried to tell her, 'I tell you in March or April what kind of winter we're having,' " Tracey said with a laugh.

He said his department tries to plan ahead and keep the surplus from the milder seasons.

"That's all you can do is remember these hard years and learn by them," he said.

City officials said the annual budget includes a cushion for winter-related costs, so the harsh winter won't have financial repercussions.

Tracey has seen a lot of bad weather in his 32 years on the job. In 1996, the city dealt with three major snows at the start of January.

"By two weeks, we were completely through the budget and out of overtime. We didn't have nearly the crew there. We were working around the clock for about 11 or 12 days. There were four or five days I never went home," Tracey said. "We haven't had anything like that this year. We've been out a lot, but we haven't had anything demanding like that.

"A few years ago, we came in on a Martin Luther King weekend and I remember it started snowing on Friday evening and it never stopped snowing until late Monday," Tracey said. "We had eight or 10 inches."

One Tracey's biggest concerns is safety. He worries when drivers try to sneak between salt trucks and plows.

"They just don't understand the severity. We have a lot of near misses because people aren't thinking. They come around the truck, you look down and they are on their cellphones," Tracey said. "We've had two minor benders this year. We're pretty fortunate we haven't had a serious accident over the years."

There is a light at the end of the tunnel of this seemingly endless winter. The first day of spring is March 20.

"It will be over soon," Tracey said. "Then we'll be complaining it's 85 degrees and we're standing behind an asphalt truck."

Comments