Winter's Toll On Municipalities
Though today is the first official day of spring, some municipalities are looking at dwindling snow-removal budgets. Drive anywhere across the Capital Region, down through the Hudson Valley into Westchester and New York City, and you'll find an abundance of potholes thanks to a polar vortex-driven winter that goes down in the books as one of the snowiest since recordkeeping began, one that strained municipal budgets already pared and stretched by changing economic times. Troy Mayor Lou Rosamilia says the Collar City HAD to come up with a plan. "There hasn't been a snow emergency declared in the city of Troy since 2002. And what they've been doing all along, is they deal with the situation, they do the pushbacks as they've been doing all along. And as a result of doing the pushbacks they would then go out and post where they were going to do snow removal. But on the heels of so many storms, we got to the point where we had no room to push back anymore.”
In late Febuary, Albany Common Council member Leah Golby fired off a tweet that asked: “Why is clearing roads of snow for cars prioritized over sidewalks for vulnerable pedestrians?” Golby: "I've been getting a few complaints here and there, certainly right after the snow falls."
Albany has used about 70 percent of $791,500 budgeted for snow. That money was intended to last for the rest of 2014. Mayor Kathy Sheehan says the city hasn't had to shift funds yet. "If we don't get another snow event at the end of the year, in the December timeframe, we can actually end the year on budget. But that's the great unknown. Will we have any more storms, and if we do, when will they fall?"
Winter conditions could return as early as October.
Officials in Burlington, Vermont say their city has plowed through 90 percent of its overtime budget for winter operations. New York City began the season with $57 million earmarked for snow removal. Mayor Bill de Blasio in February announced an additional $35 million was added to bolster the Big Apple's snow budget.
Even Governor Andrew Cuomo got involved, holding conference calls and having state police monitor and close highways whenever conditions deteriorated. Cuomo also made state resources, like snow plowing equipment, available to needy municipalities. Among the hardest hit: The Long Island’s Babylon, which exhausted its budget in January and is tapping surplus funds to pay bills.
Town of Schoharie Highway Superintendent Dan Weideman thinks motorists have come to expect milder winters, and many equip vehicles with all-season tires instead of traditional snow tires and old time tire chains. "We used to drive around in 6 inches of snow and not think about. But today you get a quarter inch of snow... it's not just the highway department it's the first responds constantly out there servicing these people"
Weideman adds this year's spending was mitigated by last year's overage. "Things balance out. Mother Nature balances out. If you get a spring that's wet, you'll get a fall that may be dry." Leah Golby agrees. "This year has been consistent with other years, it's just that it's been a few years since we've had a lot of snow."
Forecasters say temperatures will be in the 40s for the next several days. After that: all bets are off.