A blizzard of spending: Winter snow operations cost $3.47 million

It was a hard winter for everyone in the area, but perhaps hardest on local governments and their taxpayers, with costs piling up faster than the near-record snowfall.

In Naperville, winter operations cost $3.47 million in all, which was almost 42 percent more than average.

The city encountered $853,000 in staff overtime expenses and $693,325 in bills for outside plowing and de-icing, about 148 percent more than the norm, when roadways had to be cleared on 18 separate occasions, which was three times the average.

Salt spreading was done to reduce slippery road conditions 31 times, calling for nearly 22,000 tons of salt, some of which had to be ordered midseason. Because regional demand had strained salt supplies, delaying delivery of supplemental stores, the city briefly stretched its dwindling reserves by blending in sand and prioritizing its de-icing operations with focus on major roads.

Naperville’s situation was mirrored around the area. Aurora spent more than $300,000 more on snow removal compared with the previous season, city officials said.

The 2013-2014 snow season cost the city $918,008, according to Aurora spokesman Dan Ferrelli. The city spent $595,297 on snow removal and other weather-related activities in 2012-2013.

While Aurora actually spent less on snow contractors in 2013-2014, the city spent significantly more on overtime pay. Aurora doled out $307,514 in overtime pay to city crews in 2013-2014, compared to $59,752 the previous season.

The city also spent more on salt, equipment usage and on water and sewer repairs, Ferrelli said.

Aurora used 950 tons of salt this past winter, compared to 700 tons in winter 2012-2013.

Elgin is also dealing with some large bills concerning the past winter.

According to information provided by the city, Elgin had $1,740,789 in snow season expenditures for the season and had budgeted $1,059,400.

The overtime tally for all departments related to plowing was $663,500, with $283,800 budgeted. Elgin spent $317,733 plowing cul de sacs and parking lots, with $287,600 budgeted. And plowing at the city-owned Bluff City Cemetery ran $27,296 with $18,000 budgeted.

Materials costs ran $692,860 for salt, with $450,000 budgeted and $39,400 for liquid de-icer, with $20,000 budgeted.

The city intends to fund the overage in overtime with general fund money from the health insurance budget, where the allocation had been larger than the actual need. The cul de sac and parking lot money needed will come from the general fund’s contingency, with the cemetery difference coming from the cemetery’s own contingency fund.

To pay for the overage in salt money from the motor fuel tax fund balance will be used, and funding for the extra de-icer is coming from the general fund contingency.

Of course, it wasn’t just cities alone that saw mounting costs due to the winter weather. All the counties in the area did as well.

Kendall County spent more than double its normal overtime cost for snow plow drivers, and definitely spent more on fuel during this past winter, said Fran Klaas, Highway Department chairman.

The county spent $91,000 on overtime in the first four months of the 2014 fiscal year. The line item was only $40,000, which is about what the county normally spends on driver overtime, Klaas said.

“That’s a big deal,” he said.

Also, the county in the first four months of the fiscal year has spent $75,000 on fuel, and its budget for the whole year is $110,000.

But it spent about an average amount of salt for the year, which, oddly enough, was in part because the winter was so severe. There were so many cold days when salt was ineffective that the county did not bother with it, Klaas said. And salt costs are the real budget-buster.

“We spent a lot on fuel and overtime, but in the overall budget, that’s not such a big deal,” he said. “If we would have used more salt, that would have been worse. But a lot of times we were running the trucks, but not using salt.”

The winter also caused the county’s Facilities Management to overspend its natural gas heating budget by about $21,000.

Other government units including townships and park districts saw mounting bills as well this winter.

The Naperville Park District’s winter-incurred costs and revenue shortfalls came to $133,288, more than 60 percent of which went to plowing, salting and keeping the sledding sites and ice rinks accessible. However, upward of one-quarter of the sum represents greens fees that weren’t collected, relative to the 2012-13 season, at the district’s two golf courses when recurring snowfall kept duffers from making their way to the drift-blanketed tees.

Losses were seen in stalled development projects as well, and the district forfeited $3,200 when registration fees had to be refunded after programs were cancelled due to the weather. Nearly $3,000 also was needed to repair damaged turf at the golf courses.

That’s the bad news.

“On the positive side, the snow and cold enabled the district to keep the sled hills and skating rinks open for several months, and use of the indoor golf simulators was up compared to last year,” said Sue Omanson, community development manager, in an email. “Additionally, lower golf expenses for winter 2014 balanced the loss of revenue, leaving the golf operational budget with a current surplus of $8,931.”

Busy times

The long winter took a toll not only on government pocketbooks, but on the city employees themselves.

According to Elgin Public Works Crew Leader Matt Mattingly, the city’s snow staff worked nine consecutive weekends from Dec. 7 through Feb. 2.

“The first week of the new year, snow staff worked on rotating 12-hour shifts for six out of the first seven days of the year,” Mattingly said. “Jan. 4 was the only day that week we did not receive snow.”

Mattingly explained that the most hours worked consecutively by any given Elgin city plow driver is 12.

“Our policy for severe storms and blizzards calls for a rotation of 12 on and 12 off until the completion of the storm,” he said.

Naperville saw similar long shifts for those plowing and salting the streets.

Snowfall in the city piled up to slightly more than 79 inches over the course of the winter, almost twice as much as usual. And while most of us are reasonably sure the flurries are now behind us, it’s never too early to plan for the upcoming round.

“In terms of salt, we currently have 8,400 tons left on hand for next snow season,” Naperville city spokeswoman Linda LaCloche said.

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