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County could exceed snow budget for third year straight

A snowplow works at the end of Bethel Road during heavy snow fall on Saturday January 23, 2016.
A snowplow works at the end of Bethel Road during heavy snow fall on Saturday January 23, 2016. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

Taneytown resident Billy Hopwood learned the hard way this week that living in a rural area has its downsides.

After last weekend's snowstorm, he said, it took close to a week for his street to be cleared.

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"I know small roads are not a priority," said Hopwood, who said shoveling his own driveway after Winter Storm Jonas took several hours. "But it's where I live."

Westminster resident Deana Kuykendall said she sympathizes.

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Although she lives close to downtown Westminster and saw plows working on her street almost right away, there are many streets that still need work, she said, noting that some lanes near her were still overtaken by snow, forcing drivers to use turning lanes whether turning or driving straight.

"I think there's more they could do," she said, adding that the snow seems to come heavier and faster every year.

But when plows and other snow removal equipment come with a big price tag, jurisdictions all over the country must determine how to balance costs with the need to get back to regular life.

Each year, Carroll County government budgets between $1.8 and $2 million for storm emergencies, said David Reese, deputy director of public works. Those emergencies can range from cleanup after hurricane-related events to major snow removal.

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Although the county surpassed that budget mark only three times in the past 10 years, two of those three times have been in the past two years, in 2015 and 2014, according to data provided by the county. If the county is hit with another snowstorm this winter, Reese said, the budget will likely be exceeded for the third straight year.

"This is the third year in a row we've been hit hard with snow," Reese said.

While the region is not unaccustomed to snow, the rate of accumulation and the frequency of storms provide the biggest challenges to road crews, he said.

In recent years, though, the county has become more efficient in dealing with snow, Reese said.

"We're learning more about how to do effective snow removal," he said, noting that the county has gained access to heavy equipment better suited for large snowfall.

As important as clearing the roads after a storm is, managing citizens' expectations is equally vital, Reese said.

"There are high expectations," he said.

Despite the grouping of major winter weather events in recent years, the county plans to continue with its snow plans, Reese said. Although the county exceeded its storm budget by a total of about $2.5 million between 2014 and 2015, Reese said he does not anticipate a need to increase the amount of money budgeted for snow removal in the coming fiscal year.

"Of course, weather's unpredictable," he said. "But we do try to incorporate it into our budget."

Determining just how much to budget will always be a challenge, he said.

"It's very hard to predict exactly what you're going to need," Reese said.

Carroll County spending on storm emergencies:

•FY15: $3,529,739

•FY14: $2,627,963

•FY13: $1,197,164

•FY12: $689,807

•FY11: $1,814,400

•FY10: $3,047,668

•FY09: $1,571,133

•FY08: $1,503,960

•FY07: $1,342,784

•FY06: $881,438

Figures are from Carroll County government and do not include money spent on expenses like overtime for crews.

410-857-3315

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