Snow, ice strains Harford budgets so far this winter

How much will Harford spend on winter-related costs this year?

The winter season may not have brought as much snow as some other years, along the lines of "Snowmageddon," but the unusually persistent and bitter cold has meant plenty of ice which has challenged winter budgets and resources in Harford County.

One local municipality is already about 50 percent over budget, while others expect to be over their budgets soon.

That was all before another small burst of snow showed up across the county on Thursday, while the next week's forecast points to a risk of afternoon or evening snow showers Tuesday.

About an inch of snow fell across Harford on Thursday morning, which meant state, county and municipal crews were out on the roads again early.

The latest snowfall was light enough to treat with chemicals, and most main roads were clear and just wet by 8:30 a.m.

This winter's biggest wallop so far came this past weekend, with up to 10 inches of snow blanketing the county suddenly by Saturday night. Another two to five inches of snow fell on Harford earlier in the week.

In between, the stretches of Arctic weather, with wind chills as low as 20 below zero, and an unexpected January ice storm that killed one man and paralyzed the county early Sunday morning, kept public works employees and contractors busy in recent months.

"It doesn't seem like we have had a lot of snow, but we have actually had 15 times where we had to utilize our forces to combat ice or snow," Bel Air's public works director Stephen Kline said Monday.

His town has already spent $10,000 to $15,000 more on salt treatments than anticipated. Bel Air set aside $23,200 to spend on salt this year, including road and sidewalk treatments, Kline said.

The town used 588 tons of salt, more than the roughly 400 tons it normally uses, Kline said. He noted the town restocks salt on a regular basis.

He said the amount of ice, more so than the snow, definitely led to more salt use.

The town is close to its budget on overtime hours for workers, which have been about 1,020 so far this season, he said.

Harford County's public works department has used about 16,218 tons of salt between Dec. 1, 2014, and Monday, county spokesperson Cindy Mumby said.

The county spent $334,937 for all costs, including overtime, equipment and fuel, for this weekend's snow storm alone, Mumby said.

She did not have exact numbers on salt costs because while the county buys the salt, other agencies use the county's five salt domes and reimburse it.

"We think we will likely be over budget," she said about the winter-related costs. "We have had a lot of ice this season, so to be as proactive as we can, we are spreading more salt and doing the pre-treating."

The City of Aberdeen used "a little over 600 tons of salt" so far, public works director Kyle Torster said. The city has about 300 tons left and just ordered another 200 tons.

"Last year, we ended up using almost 1,200 tons of salt, so we are roughly at about 50 percent of where we stand," he said.

He did not have available Tuesday how much the city has spent so far.

In Havre de Grace, public works director Larry Parks also expects to be over budget at some point. He said his city is under budget as of Wednesday, but has to buy more salt, which he expects will put it about 28 percent over budget.

Havre de Grace has a winter budget of $22,000, and has spent $16,000 of it, Parks said. He expects to spend another $11,000 to get the remaining salt.

The city also budgeted $4,000 on maintenance and has spent $4,278 so far, he said.

Perryville's public works director Aaron Ashford said State Highway Administration purchases the salt the town uses, and Perryville reimburses its cost. He said the state agency does not usually give its totals to Perryville until about March.

Nevertheless, he does not think the town used more salt than normal, although the weather has been colder.

Winter always makes it hard for governments to budget their resources, with Mother Nature constantly packing surprises and administrations tending to plan conservatively for what they need.

Last year, for example, the Harford County government was at least $1.8 million over its snow removal budget in March. The public works department was working to find money in its highways budget to cover the extra cost.

Pothole threat?

When Harford thaws out from the deep freeze, it is likely to face a different danger: potholes.

"We are not currently seeing more potholes, but we suspect that we will when the temperatures rise, because when water gets into cracks or crevices in the roadways and freezes, ice expands and when it melts, it leaves a void in its place," Mumby explained.

"We definitely expect more problems," she said.

Residents who find potholes, perhaps the hard way, are urged to call the county's pothole hotline: 410-638-3376.

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