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posted: 1/4/2014 8:00 AM

Big snow, means bigger costs for suburbs

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  • A snowplow makes its way down Garfield Avenue in Libertyville Thursday morning after a winter storm dumped over a foot of snow in the area. Several towns are feeling a budget squeeze after so much snow so early.

       A snowplow makes its way down Garfield Avenue in Libertyville Thursday morning after a winter storm dumped over a foot of snow in the area. Several towns are feeling a budget squeeze after so much snow so early.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

The suburbs are taking a big financial hit from the recent snowfalls, not only because of the number of inches that added up, but because so much of it has come during holidays and weekends.

Those are typically off-shift days for municipal public works employees, who receive overtime pay for snow removal done then.

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The snow changed the nature of the holidays for many of them. In Schaumburg, some didn't have a day off from Dec. 9 through the start of the new year.

"It's been kind of a tough stretch," Schaumburg Village Manager Brian Townsend said. "For them, the holiday season wasn't one they were able to celebrate much."

Schaumburg's budget year stretches from May 1 through the following April 30, putting winter snow removal squarely in the final third.

The village tries to budget for snow removal based on historical data, but it's usually not until March that a final calculation can be made of how close to budget the season was, Townsend said.

Schaumburg's general fund does have a healthy level of reserves, but a particularly expensive winter can trigger adjustments in the following year's budget, he added.

Barrington is in a somewhat different position, with a budget year that starts Jan. 1. Heavy snowfall early in the year leaves plenty of time for the budget to be adjusted, Village Manager Jeff Lawler said.

And this certainly seems to be a winter in which Mother Nature will be granting no favors to snow removal budgets.

"We're anticipating more snow, maybe twice as much as normal," Lawler said.

While Barrington begins each budget year with an overall contingency fund, a heavy winter can cause snow removal to have dibs on much of it, he said.

Though costly, the work is essential to keep roadways safe, Lawler said.

Elgin's Superintendent of Public Works Dan Rich agreed.

"The cost of snow removal is significant, but it pales in comparison to the cost of not removing the ice and snow," Rich said.

Elgin's overtime costs will be significant, he said. About 30 employees worked 12-hour shifts around the clock Tuesday through Thursday.

Elgin also might end up spending more on salt. The city already has used 5,000 tons, two-thirds of the salt it would spread in a typical winter, Rich said.

Mundelein crews have tried to conserve road salt by spreading it only during certain periods during the snowfall, Deputy Public Works Director Joe DeVito said.

"We're at about the middle of our allotment," DeVito said. "We have quite a bit left in the building."

In Mundelein, the adoption of 12-hour shifts has been a way of reducing overtime during a particularly busy winter. Crews have taken out the plows and salt trucks 14 times so far this winter.

In Glen Ellyn, crews completed at least four consecutive 12-hour shifts around New Year's Day, removing snow with four to five large trucks and seven to eight small trucks plus a sidewalk crew. Glen Ellyn has used about 1,700 tons of salt this winter with 16 snow/ice removal events -- almost double the most the city has had at this point in any of the last six winters.

Clearing snow so far this winter has cost Naperville at least $475,000. Overtime costs have accounted for $275,000 of it as plows have hit the streets on four occasions and trucks have spread salt 12 times, spokeswoman Linda LaCloche said. Contractors also have been called to help plow cul-de-sacs, costing the city $200,000.

Those amounts are approaching five-year averages for an entire winter season, which LaCloche said stand at an average of $380,000 for overtime and $260,000 for plowing contractors.

Overtime costs also are expected to be high in Mount Prospect, where snow-removal crews have been working steadily to keep local roads passable, Public Works Director Sean Dorsey said.

His department is also keeping an eye on weather forecasts that call for bitter cold after the snow ends.

"When a deep freeze hits, anything that's still on the roads will probably stay there for awhile, so we're doing all we can to get them cleared," Dorsey said.

• Daily Herald staff writers Elena Ferrarin, Joshua Welge, Matt Arado, Marie Wilson and Russell Lissau contributed to this report.

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