Municipal Road Crews Calling For More Salt

When the snow falls, out comes the salt – thousands of pounds of it.

This winter’s freezing temperatures have kept plow crews busy in Chautauqua County.

According to George Spanos, director of Public Facilities, an average of 15,000-20,000 pounds of salt is utilized to de-ice county roads during the winter.

A study published in 2011 through the Chautauqua County Shared Services Committee in cooperation with representatives of the county’s 27 towns, 14 villages and two cities analyzed how much services actually cost.

Research into the average annual snowfall in Chautauqua County revealed that snow removal is a significant effort for all municipalities. However, due to variation in accounting practices, it is difficult to fully and accurately identify snow removal costs for each municipality with any degree of reliability, the study found.

Additionally, the county maintains 550 miles of pavement; cities maintain a total of 210 miles; towns maintain 1,210 miles; and villages maintain 158 miles.

Jamestown Comptroller Joe Bellitto said this year, the city will spend more for snow removal than was budgeted.

“When we budget, we go by historical average but the weather can obviously throw that off so easily,” Bellitto said, adding that almost $500,000 was spent on salt and equipment in 2013, which was $160,000 over budget. “The snow removal budget is a tough one because it’s all dependent on mother nature.”

In the milder winter of 2012, Bellitto said $280,000 was spent on salt.

“You can tell what a difference one year makes,” he said. “It’s really quite an incredible swing from $280,000 to nearly half a million.”

Jamestown’s Department of Public Works uses 12 vehicles for snow removal and salt spreading in the city and employs 43 workers.

Last year, $693,292 was spent on salaries, which was under budget.

Spanos said Chautauqua County spent approximately $2.1 million last year for personnel, benefits, contractual obligations with other municipalities, salt for de-icing and fuel.

Of that amount, $1 million was used for salt alone.

Jamestown streets are plowed by the Department of Public Works while county highways are maintained by the Department of Public Facilities. Villages and towns are maintained by their respective highway departments, some through contracts with the county.

“Each county plow truck has a designated route and each route is about 20 miles one way,” Spanos said. “Each truck has to cover between 35 and 40 miles and usually it takes about two and a half to three hours to do a route.”

The Department of Public Facilities alone employs 87 snow-removal workers 75 of them plow truck drivers.

Dunkirk Mayor Anthony Dolce said his city’s Department of Public Works has been busy.

“This year, we’re going through a lot more salt than the last couple years,” he said, adding that extra money was set aside in the city’s budget over the past two, milder winters. “We were able to cut back, but not this year with the snow and ice.”

Annual snowfall rates can vary widely across municipalities differing by a factor of three or more, according to the study. Therefore, municipalities with three times the snowfall would experience costs proportional to these differences.

“The cost and salt usage varies so much because of how many times it snows,” Spanos said. “The hard part is that in the spring, we have nothing to show for it. Everything just melts.”