The weather gods smiled on C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III's first winter as Baltimore County executive, but even good fortune isn't cheap these days.
The executive benefited from a winter with just one heavy snowfall -- conveniently occurring on the weekend -- and no long periods of cold. So Mr. Ruppersberger avoided the weeks of snow and ice that some believe contributed to the defeat of his predecessor, Roger B. Hayden, in the November election.
Despite the mild winter, the county has spent $1.26 million in storm emergency funds this budget year, leaving $144,000 for ++ any late March surprises. That marks an improvement over most years, when money frequently must be added to pay for winter storms.
"I think that we were very lucky," Mr. Ruppersberger said. "A lot of this is luck."
He also noted, however, that he made efforts to bolster highway crews, added supervisors and reviewed snow-removal plans immediately after taking office Dec. 5.
Part of this year's expense can be traced back to last year's weather. The prolonged cold spell and ice-covered roads weren't forgotten when Mr. Hayden compiled his last budget. The county spent $1 million last summer to triple its salt-storage capacity by building four new salt sheds in Cockeysville, Woodlawn, Perry Hall and Dundalk.
About $750,000 of this year's storm emergency fund went to buy 31,000 tons of salt to fill the sheds and keep them full.
"We're very pleased," county highways chief C. Richard Moore said. "It was a good year."
Mr. Moore said the sheds held 24,500 tons of salt when winter started and that he added 7,000 tons in late January after a second, small storm. The county has 13,200 tons left, which will be available to start next winter if not needed for any late storms.
In a typical winter, the county uses about 20,000 tons of salt for the 2,500 miles of streets and roads it maintains.
The county also bought 24 new snowplows for county trucks and 24 new salt-spreading devices, together costing another $95,000.
The biggest snowstorm this year hit Feb. 3, and drifting snow in the northern part of the county that weekend kept county crews busy for several days. That storm alone cost $230,000, not counting salt, Mr. Moore said.
The rest was spent on six smaller storms, Jan. 6 and Jan. 28, Feb. 16 and Feb. 26, and March 3 and March 8.
By comparison, the county was hit with 13 storms last year at a cost of $3.3 million. The county ran out of road salt and used 40,000 tons of coal slag for traction on the icy streets. It took county workers until mid-July to sweep up all the cinders.
Mr. Moore said the county plans to buy 12 snowplows for use on trucks and 12 salt spreaders each year to keep all of the equipment from wearing out at once. About 10 percent of such equipment breaks down each year, he said.