A light snowplowing season is helping local governments recover from the previous, financially punishing winter.
“We really needed the break,” said Neil Kersten, Spokane Valley’s public works director. “We’ve done a lot of de-icing, but it’s still been pretty mild.”
“I’m loving every minute of it,” county engineering manager Pat Harper said.
Spokane budget director Tim Dunivant shared the sentiment.
“We needed to spend less,” he said. “So any savings we had really only helped us make budget.”
None of the governments has final figures yet, but Dunivant said this winter’s relative lack of snow means Spokane spent about $2 million less than budgeted – money that may be needed in the coming winter.
Spokane spent up to $275,000 a day at the height of last winter’s plowing operation, Dunivant said. The city had to hire private contractors as well as borrow equipment operators from city utility departments.
Dunivant said the city spent about $140,000 reimbursing the user-funded utility departments last winter, “but this year we didn’t have to do that at all.”
County Engineer Bob Brueggeman said his department’s record snow-related costs by late February 2009 were slightly more than $2 million greater than for the same period this winter.
By late February this year, he said, the county had spent about $164,000 on snow removal, $811,000 on sanding and de-icing, and $100,000 on storm water runoff problems – a total of less than $1.1 million.
Storm water costs were higher than normal this winter. Also, Brueggeman said, extensive grading was required for earlier-than-usual washboarding of soft gravel roads.
In Spokane Valley, a newly implemented snowplowing program got just enough snow in December to test the system.
“That went pretty well,” Kersten said. “The guys have gotten some experience, so we feel a lot more comfortable.”
Then the snow stopped, allowing the city to spend only $162,000 of the $280,000 it had budgeted through the end of December.
He expected to bank much of the $640,000 budgeted for the remainder of the winter.
Spokane Valley’s new arrangement with Poe Asphalt – replacing a contract with Spokane County – reduces labor costs by allowing the city to pay only a standby charge for workers who aren’t needed.
Spokane and Spokane County crews turned to other duties when they weren’t required to plow snow.
In addition to grading roads, Brueggeman said county crews caught up on a backlog of ditch clearing and brush cutting.