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As snow piled up this winter, so did municipalities’ bills

Published: Saturday, March 22, 2014 11:16 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, March 24, 2014 12:20 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Kyle Grillot – kgrillot@shawmedia.com)
An Illinois Department of Transportation truck plows Northwest Highway in Crystal Lake in January.
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(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Plow trucks are lined up and ready to go at the McHenry County Department of Transportation ahead of the snow storms this season.
Caption
(H. Rick Bamman – hbamman@shawmedia.com)
Crystal Lake Public Works employee Dave Oerkitz (left) operates a roller after Tom Bubba Aellig shoveled asphalt into a large pot hole Thursday on Berkshire Drive just west of Devonshire Lane. The long winter has cost municipalities millions on overtime for plowing and on salt stockpiles.

Between the overtime and the salt, the fuel and the vehicle maintenance, municipalities have racked up the bills this winter.

As the weather starts to warm – though snow stubbornly remains in the forecast – the townships, municipalities and counties that clear and maintain the roads are shifting gears, filling potholes and getting to some of the work that the winter weather had pushed off.

Also on the to-do list is tallying up the bills and figuring what, if anything, needs to be done to compensate.

With much of the snowfall coming on holidays and weekends, the city of Crystal Lake spent $176,000 this winter on overtime, 75 percent over what it had budgeted, Public Works Director Victor Ramirez said.

McHenry paid out $178,000 in overtime, more than double the $80,000 it had budgeted, said its director of public works, Jon Schmitt. The village of Spring Grove also spent twice what it normally does, Public Works Supervisor Matt Wittum said.

The McHenry County Division of Transportation also spent nearly double, said the division’s maintenance supervisor, Mark DeVries.

“This has probably been one of the worst years,” Schmitt said. “They were out almost every weekend since December. They’ve been bringing their share of overtime in.”

County crews worked 71 of the 76 days running from Dec. 8 to the end of February, sending out trucks 111 times to deal with snow and ice, DeVries said. During a normal year, trucks are sent out on average 61 times.

“It was incredible that we were out every day,” he said. “Some of that wasn’t because it was snowing, it was blowing. You throw in the third coldest winter ever. We’re probably going to hit the second snowiest winter.”

Each of those trips out also put wear and tear on the plows and burned gasoline.

The city of McHenry expects to come in on budget on vehicle maintenance, but its fuel consumption was “up quite a bit,” Schmitt said.

DeVries expects that he’ll probably have to go to the County Board to ask for additional spending authority to cover the overtime, fuel and vehicle maintenance, though he said he won’t know for sure until the county gets further into its fiscal year.

Unlike municipalities, which are wrapping up their fiscal year at the end of April, the county just started its fiscal year on Dec. 1.

All the snow and ice has also meant more salt on the streets.

The city of Crystal Lake as well as the county had to purchase additional salt, and to stretch their supplies, many entities, including McHenry and Spring Grove, started mixing the salt with sand or cutting back on salt on straight stretches of residential roadway.

The sand leaves a residue on the streets that has to be cleaned up later, Ramirez said, but Crystal Lake sweeps all its roads in the spring anyway.

The big question in whether salt will still end up costing municipalities is how much it will cost to rebuild their stockpiles ahead of next winter.

“We think we’ll be in good shape from an overall budget perspective; it just depends on the salt purchase,” McHenry City Administrator Derik Morefield said.

The winter has also been tough on the water lines that connect homes and businesses to the municipal water mains.

The city of McHenry hasn’t had frozen water service lines in about 15 years, but this year they’ve had several, Schmit said.

Crystal Lake’s were also way up, Ramirez said. They had about 50 residential and half a dozen commercial lines freeze this past winter compared to two or three total during a typical year.

Fixing them was also more difficult than normal because the ground was frozen 5 feet down instead of the 1 to 2 feet that’s normal, he said.

“It’s so much more work because it’s like digging through concrete,” Ramirez said.

Some of the government entities will dig into their savings to cover the costs, and others will postpone some other projects until the new fiscal year starts. Some of the overbudget line items will also even out with other underbudget ones.

“In the grand scheme of life, this winter we basically had two winters in one so we’ve done pretty well,” Wittum said.

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