Weather depletes area salt supply, puts strain on budgets

Frequent early season snow and ice have strained road crews across the county and forced some to consider the possibility that designated funds could run dry.

Less than a month into winter, many departments have already used the majority of salt they had stocked before the season. Nearly constant plow and salt events – which can include snow drifting back across previously plowed streets – also have strained budgets for fuel and labor.

“Everybody is concerned,” said Mark DeVries, maintenance superintendent at the McHenry County Division of Transportation. “We’re concerned, but we aren’t in panic mode yet. We don’t have to be there.”

The MCDOT has used about 60 percent of its total contract for salt and has ordered about 80 percent of it, DeVries said.

The snow removal service for county roads has a slightly different situation than others because its budget kicks in Dec. 1. Depleting the department’s resources in the winter would likely not be felt until the summer, DeVries said.

The department has already ordered salt reserves. But DeVries didn’t expect to have to request emergency appropriations later in the year – assuming the winter doesn’t keep up its current pace.

“Are we going so low on fuel that we won’t be able to mow ditches this year? No, I don’t see that happening,” he said.

DeVries said his staff only got one day off during a 31-day stretch starting Dec. 8.

In Woodstock, the city registered about 20 events in December alone, compared to two or three in Dec. 2012, Public Works Director Paul Ruscko said.

The department has started spraying down salt with deicing liquid, which helps increase its effectiveness and allows the department to conserve more salt.

But the city is keeping other options in mind. One such idea would have crews spreading salt only on high-risk areas – hills, curves and intersections – and leaving straightaways without salt.

Officials will be evaluating the budget in coming days to see whether projects that came in under budget this fiscal year could provide any significant funds toward fuel and labor. Another option would be asking the City Council to put emergency reserve funds toward snow and ice removal, Ruscko said.

“It’s going to come down to what we’re dealt in the next couple months,” he said.

In Huntley, where the budget turned over with the new year, Director of Public Works Jim Schwartz said officials have measured nearly 40 inches of snow this season. The weather forced Huntley to order additional salt to get through the winter.

Schwartz said the village approved two salt orders of about $30,000 each. The money came from the general fund, he said.

But he added the forecast they received back in October called for a tough December, and then drier months filling out the winter.

“We’re not doing too bad if the weather tapers off,” he said.