Snow causing budget woes

SHERIDAN — There is more to come — snow, that is.

While some may wish the weather gods would remove Sheridan from their list of locations on which to dump more of the white stuff, County Public Works Director Rod Liesinger said county snow removal crews typically expect the heaviest snows to come in March, April and even into May.

“What’s weird about it is, we haven’t even gotten into our serious snow season yet. Last year, we nearly spent our whole overtime road and bridge budget in March. We had more than $8,000 in overtime in March 2013,” Liesinger said.

Liesinger said overtime is how he measures how snowy of a year it has been since road and bridge crews work year-round and try to do most of the snow removal during their regular work day.

If crews begin to log overtime hours, it is an indicator that snows have kept them busy.

Compared to last year, the 2013-2014 winter season has required a little more time and effort from county crews.

On last year’s budget, through Jan. 31, 2013, approximately $120,000 was spent on snow removal. This year, through Jan. 31, the county has spent approximately $141,000 on snow removal. The total Road and Bridge budget for each fiscal year was $1,170,000, so spending on snow removal is up approximately 14 percent to date, Liesinger said.

The county drops a mixture of salt, sand and crushed scoria chips on its 30 miles of paved roads and some gravel roads. Crews have applied a little more product this year than last year and will likely need to buy additional scoria to make it through the spring season, Liesinger said. However, since there is no specific snow removal budget — snow removal is figured into the overall road and bridge budget, which can be tweaked if needed to accommodate higher than expected costs for various activities — Liesinger expects to stay on budget for the year.

City Public Works Director Nic Bateson said this winter has been above average for city snow removal crews, and it’s straining the budget.

“Typically we attempt the best we can to budget an amount that’s based on an average winter that we might receive. Budgeting that way, we don’t want to strain our budget to plan for an extreme winter, just in case we don’t have one. We typically budget on average. This year is above average,” Bateson said.

On Tuesday, Bateson and City Engineer Lane Thompson will make two presentations to City Council about snow removal.

Thompson will focus on statistics regarding man hours and removal of snow, especially regarding the most recent storm. Bateson will make a presentation to request additional funds for snow removal.

“I’ve submitted a memo to request additional funds out of general fund reserves to allocate to snow removal because we’re going to go over,” Bateson said.

Bateson said last year the city dealt with a lot of freezing and thawing events that required plenty of ice slicer. This year, the city has received more “bulk snows” that dump significant amounts of snow that must be picked up by crews, which requires a lot of resources.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Joe Lester out of Billings, Mont., said it has been a snowier year for the region than normal.

While the weather service does not receive snowfall totals from the city of Sheridan, Lester said Story and Big Horn have both reported significant snowfall to date.

Through Wednesday, Story had received 92 inches of snow. That is the most since the winter of 1996-1997 when Story received 123 inches through Feb. 12.

“That winter was a very snowy winter. It was our record season in Billings,” Lester said.

Big Horn had received 65 inches as of Wednesday, about the same as Billings, which has had its second snowiest season this year. Big Horn’s snow amount of 65 inches is the highest since 2006, when record-keeping began.

“If you draw an area from Sheridan County up to Billings and into south central Montana, this area has been in a sweet spot for a lot of these snow events,” Lester said.

Lester said even though it’s been one of the snowiest season the area has seen in a while, that doesn’t mean it will be a snowy spring. He said there is not much correlation between snowy winters and snowy springs.

About

Hannah Wiest is the government and outdoors reporter for The Sheridan Press. She has lived in Colorado and Montana but loves her sunny home state of Wyoming best. She joined The Press staff in February 2013.

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